Philanthropist, Temperance activist.
Lady Isabella Caroline SOMERS-COCKS was born in London on 3 August 1851 as the first of three daughters of Charles SOMERS-COCKS, 3rd Earl SOMERS, and his wife Virginia (nee PATTLE). She was maternally a niece of the photographer Julia Margaret CAMERON and first cousin of the writer Virginia WOOLF's mother, Julia STEPHEN. Lady Isabella was given a private education. As she had no brothers, she and her sister Adeline were co-heiresses to their father, the third sister, Virginia, having died of diphtheria as a child. Deeply religious, she contemplated becoming a nun in her youth.
Lady Isabella married Lord Henry SOMERSET on 6 February 1872, and became known as Lady Henry SOMERSET. The match appeared to be perfect. Her husband was the second son of Henry SOMERSET, 8th Duke of BEAUFORT, and as such stood to inherit almost nothing, unlike her. On 18 May 1874, a son was born to the couple and named Henry Charles Somers Augustus SOMERSET. However, Lord Henry was homosexual, and the marriage was doomed to fail. Male homosexuality was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom at the time, but women were expected to turn a blind eye to every kind of their husband's infidelity. Lady Henry defied the social conventions by separating from her husband and suing him for custody over their son, thereby making his sexual orientation public. She won the court case in 1878 and resumed the style of Lady Isabella SOMERSET, but was ostracised from society. Lord Henry departed for Italy, but the couple never divorced due to her strong religious inclinations. Lady Henry retreated to Ledbury, near her family home, where she occupied herself with charity work. Her father died in 1883, leaving her Eastnor Castle, estates in Gloucestershire and Surrey, properties in London and slums in the East End. Baptised and raised as Anglican, she became a Methodist in the 1880s.
Lady Henry became interested in the temperance movement after her close friend committed suicide while intoxicated. Eloquent and compelling, she was elected president of the British Women's Temperance Association in 1890. The next year, she travelled to the United States, where she met Frances WILLARD, president of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Association, and spoke at the first World's WCTA convention in Boston. WILLARD soon had her elected vice-president of the organisation and paid her extended visits in Britain several times. During Lady Henry's term as president of the BWTA, the organisation grew rapidly and attained great political and social influence. She allied herself with the Liberal Party, Earl ROBERTS and William BOOTH. Lady Henry promoted birth control; in 1895, she claimed that sin begins with an unwelcome child. By 1897, her friendship with Basil WILBERFORCE helped her reconcile with the Church of England.
Her critics claimed that WILLARD had too much influence on the BWTA. Though Lady Henry denied that she intended to turn the BWTA into a women's suffrage movement, she and WILLARD did openly advocate "emancipation" of women. From 1894 until 1899, she edited the weekly British feminist magazine The Woman's Signal. As the organisation gained more members, its president grew more ambitious. She supported licensing prostitution in parts of India as a means of dealing with the spread of sexually transmitted disease among British soldiers. The view was widespread among aristocracy, but alienated her from the rest of the BWTA. After arguments with Josephine BUTLER, Lady Henry was compelled to recant her views in 1898, to prevent the organisation from falling apart. Upon WILLARD's death the same year, Lady Henry assumed the office of president of the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Association and held it until 1906, visiting the United States for the last time in 1903. She gave up the leadership of the BWTA when her support for the Scandinavian system of public management of hotels attracted criticism. Rosalind HOWARD, Countess of Carlisle, succeeded her.
Lady Henry became a vegetarian in 1905. She believed a vegetarian diet would eliminate the alcohol problem.
Lady Henry devoted the rest of her life to the Colony for Women Inebriates, Duxhurst, in Reigate, which she had opened in 1895. It was a facility intended to rehabilitate alcoholics, which she saw as her most important task. The murderer Kitty Byron lived in this home after her release from prison in 1908.
In 1913, the readers of London Evening News voted Lady Henry as the woman they would most like as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. Her London flat was damaged during a Zeppelin raid in the First World War. She continued to work hard for the benefit of the poor, particularly women, using her wealth and prestige. She died in London on 12 March 1921 following a short illness. She was survived by her estranged husband and by their only child, who married Lady Katherine, a daughter of William BEAUCLERK, 10th Duke of St Albans. When her husband's elder brother's male line died out in 1984, Lady Henry's great-grandson David became the 11th Duke of Beaufort.
She is buried in Brookwood Cemetery.
January 23 Mr Henry Somers SOMERSET was married to Lady Katherine de Vere BEAUCLERK.
May 22 Mr. W. E. JONES was the recipient of several handsome presents on his leaving Eastnor, after 34 years' faithful service in the schools and Church, Lady Henry SOMERSET adding her tribte to the good work accomplished by Mr. JONES.
July 12 A sad fatality occurred in Eastnor lake, a youth named Albert COOKE, who was a member of a bible class at Westminster (the class being entertained at Eastnor Castle), was accidentally drowned whilst bathing.
August 3 The Urban Council agreed to the draft deed of water rights from Lady Henry SOMERSET for £500 and the lease of the quarry for the reservoir from Mr. BIDDULPH for 99 years. The sewerage question was also fully considered.
August 16 Lady Henry SOMERSET held a large and fashionable "At Home" at Eastnor Castle. The Bishop of Hereford presided at a gathering of the guests, at which the Bishop of British Columbia dilated on the claims of the Columbian Mission Fund. Over £21 was contributed.
September 16 The Royal Humane Society's bronze medal and certificate were presented to William FRICKER, at Eastnor Castle, by Lady Henry SOMERSET, for endeavoring to save the life of the youth, Albert COOKE.
November 3 A band of Thessalian refugees who had encamped in the Cattle Market, were conveyed in a wagon to Ross. During their stay they were visited by Lady Henry SOMERSET, who was very kind to them.
November 18 Lady Henry SOMERSET opened a Sale of Work in the Mission Hall, in aid of the Wesleyan Circuit Funds.
December 6 During the week, a successful Temperance Mission was held in Ledbury and Eastnor. Lady Henry SOMERSET, Rev. Henry S. SANDERS, Rev. C. Y. POTTS, and Mr. BRAMBLEY (Bristol), being amongst the speakers.
January 17 The Eastnor children performed the fairy play "Princess Perpetua" (songs and music by Lady Henry SOMERSET), in the Royal Hall, the proceeds being in aid of "The Bird's Nest," Duxhurst.
January 12 Lady Henry SOMERSET opened a Cake and Apron Sale at the Town Hall, at the initiative of Lady Elizabeth BIDDULPH, in aid of the funds of the Ledbury Temperance Union, of which Lady Elizabeth is President.
ebruary 11 Lady Henry SOMERSET gave an account of the Duxhurst Farm Colony at the Mission Hall. Ledbury.
May 19 Lady Henry SOMERSET invited the Ledbury Cycling Club to Eastnor Castle.
May 23 A largely attended public meeting was held in the Mission Hall, presided over by Lady Henry SOMERSET, at which a resolution in favour of Sunday Closing was carried unanimously.
August 28 Lady Henry SOMERSET distributed the medals to the Ledbury Station branch of the G.W.R. section of the St. John's Ambulance Association.
September 6 A very successful Sale of Work, on behalf of 'The Duxhurst Home' was held at Eastnor Castle.
September 27 The Eastnor Harvest Festival was held in the evening.
October 17 The first of a series of Temperance Meetings was held at the Mission Hall, presided over by Lady Henry SOMERSET.
May 24 The Ledbury Cycling Club entertained at Eastnor Castle by Lady Henry SOMERSET.
July 10 British Women’s Temperance Association Summer School opened at Eastnor Castle.
Visit of Princess Henry of BATTENBERG to Ledbury and Eastnor Castle.
October 2 Sale of Work at Eastnor Castle in aid of Lady Henry SOMERSET’s Duxhurst Homes.
1897 - 1980 A Retrospect Tilleys Almanacks - Herefordshire History
Photographs are credited to the owners where possible
Edited Comments in italics are from the Old Ledbury Facebook Group
Cuttings from Old Ledbury Reporter Newspapers