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A talk given by Mary Ann Prior on Constance Villiers Stuart 1876 – 1966

Saturday 14th Oct. 2pm
Bawdeswell Village Hall, Reepham Road NR20 4RU

Mary Ann Prior gave us a finely judged talk on Constance Villiers Stuart who was brought up in Norfolk at Beachamwell. She was a connoisseur of Mughal and Spanish gardens, and was a journalist, author and an artist.

She was the daughter of the Fieldens, a wealthy Lancashire family who owned cotton mills. Her mother Frances was also an artist.

She was a spoilt child, intelligent and always beautifully dressed. Aged 8 her family moved to Beachamwell Hall. Her parents travelled widely for three months of the year. When Beachamwell Hall burnt down in 1903, the family moved to Shingham whilst it was rebuilt to their own design, it was completed in 1906. Constance was very involved in the design of the new garden at Beachamwell. She studied art in Rome and Paris. She met and became engaged to Patrick Villiers Stuart around 1905. He was from an aristocratic Irish family. They were devoted to each other, he was a very relaxed man. In 1910 Constance had a daughter, Patricia, who was left behind when Patrick was posted to India. Constance was undomesticated and wished to accompany her husband. They sailed to Bombay and were posted to Jabalpur. Constance, before leaving for India had searched for books on Mughal gardens with no success, so she created her own garden based on a plan of Paradise Gardens in Persia to create an idea of heaven. She began a campaign to get Mughal gardens restored. In 1914 she published Gardens of the Great Mughals. By publishing her book Constance wanted recognition for her work. She wanted British planners in India to replicate historic Indian layouts rather than using a British vision.

In 1915 Patrick was posted to Salonica. Constance joined him after eight months. She then went on to write articles about a woman’s perspective from the front and wrote about the Soldiers Gardens in Macedonia in Country Life. After the war she went on to explore the Moorish gardens in Spain. Firstly the gardens around Madrid and then on to Andalusia and the Alhambra. She was fascinated by the contrast between east and west. She wrote the first book about Spanish gardens which encouraged visitors to go and enjoy them. The book was a great success.

During the Second World War she was confined to Beachamwell Hall – her sanctuary. She started doing flower arranging and wrote articles about it. Her head gardener at Beachamwell was called Mr Turner. She was also asked to advise on new towns after the war, including designing gardens and green spaces. She lobbied for council houses and curated exhibitions of flower paintings.

Constance was always wanting to improve herself and to be well known and respected for what she achieved.

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