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Mary Leighton Collection

 Collection
Call Number: MSS 16

Scope and Contents

The collection comprises ten original sketchbooks, albums, and scrapbooks compiled by Mary Leighton (1799–1864) and her children. They cover the period 1824-1860, and were intended for private, family use. The materials provide a compelling example of the role of drawing and album-keeping in Victorian England. More than simple pastimes, these activities helped families such as the Leightons to locate themselves in the social order. The drawings contained in these ten sketchbooks and scrapbooks often portray the estates of acquaintances, picturesque landscapes, and portraits that—along with the maps, prints, and other materials in the volumes—track the family’s circulation in society. Through the drawings and ephemera they created and preserved, Mary and her children placed themselves within a well-educated and well-traveled social network that spread far beyond the borders of their native Shropshire.

These materials sketch not only a social identity but also help construct a national one. Their depictions of the Welsh countryside, for example, may appear as pure paeans to the sublimity of the landscape, yet they also suggest the importance of Wales to a broader British identity. In his book The Passengers, Mary’s brother John Parker laments Wales’ long-lost independence while arguing that “the only fair prospect for Wales . . . is a closer, more intimate union with England” (47). Mary’s drawings of the Menai and Conway suspension bridges, which facilitated tourism and commerce in Wales, may be understood as promoting such a view. So may her sons’ drawings of such historical figures as Llewellyn and William Wallace, who are perhaps included in the scrapbooks not so much as Celtic leaders, but as British heroes.

The volumes’ construction of identity reflects a fascinating intersection of the public with the domestic, revealing the family’s interests in, and relation to, the broader world through this personal and private medium. References to contemporary and historical political events jostle with tender or comic depictions of family and friends; illustrations from published books and periodicals are transformed into children’s drawing exercises. Together these materials trace the boundary between the public and domestic realms in the first half of the nineteenth century, while at the same time conveying its permeability.

Dates

  • 1824-1860

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired 2011, Paul Mellon Fund.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically.

Extent

2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

https://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/ycba.mss.0016

Overview

The collection comprises ten original sketchbooks, albums, and scrapbooks compiled by Mary Leighton and her children, 1824-1860.

Biographical / Historical

Mary Leighton, née Parker, 1799–1864: Third child of Thomas Netherton Parker (1771–1848) and his wife, Sarah. Her parents must have encouraged their children’s creative pursuits, as Mary and her elder brother John both became accomplished amateur artists. Their family was close friends of the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Charlotte Barker (1739–1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755–1832), two upper-class Irish women who fled their families and established a home together in North Wales, at Plas Newydd, only fifteen miles from the Parker family estate, Sweeney Hall. Correspondence between Sarah Parker and Sarah Ponsonby, currently in the Denbighshire Record Office archives, reveals that Mary occasionally sent the ladies her drawings, many of which record the grounds of Plas Newydd and the surrounding countryside. The subjects of Mary’s drawings also include prominent Grand Tour sites, satirical treatments of contemporary fashions, and thoughtful portraits of friends and family. Notably, the only portrait from life of the Ladies of Llangollen is by Mary’s hand.

Mary remained an active amateur artist following her 1832 marriage to Baldwin Leighton, 7th Baronet (1805–1871), of Loton Hall. Together they had six children, who Mary actively encouraged in drawing and painting. The work of five of their children is represented in this archive.

Reverend John Parker, 1798–1860: Elder brother of Mary Leighton. He served as rector of Llanmerewig, Montgomeryshire, and, later, as vicar of Llanyblodwel, Shropshire. Although a clergyman, John was drawn to the history of North Wales and Shropshire, and he dedicated himself to documenting its architecture and landscape, both in image and verse. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, John blended his antiquarian and religious interests in his drawings of Welsh rood screens and fonts, and in his alterations and restorations of the churches at Llanmerewig and Llanyblodwel. He further paid tribute to the architectural and natural wonders of North Wales in his book of poetry The Passengers, Containing the Celtic Annals (1831). Mary illustrated one of his poems with watercolors made after his drawings; this folio is now in the National Library of Wales.

Baldwyn Leighton, 8th Baronet, 1836–1914: Eldest son of Mary Leighton. Baldwyn became a Conservative Party politician yet retained a liberal bent, as evidenced by his tracts and speeches relating to depauperization, as well as his editorial work on a volume of letters and writings by philanthropist and Liberal Party politician, Edward Denison (1840–1870). Although he seems not to have shared the abiding antiquarian interests of other members of his family, he sketched regularly—albeit clumsily—throughout his youth. Many of his drawings were copies after illustrations, while others captured the swirl of social engagements during his early adulthood. Baldwyn shared his mother’s keen eye for the ridiculous, and his drawings of friends and acquaintances, including of his future wife, Eleanor Warren (1841–1914), often have a comedic tone.

Stanley Leighton, 1837–1901: Second son of Mary Leighton. As a Conservative Party politician, he served as M.P. of North Shropshire from 1876 until his death in 1901. He seemed less inclined toward politics than toward art and antiquarianism, and he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians in 1880. Stanley also served as the Vice-President of the Shropshire Archaeological Society and published essays in its Transactions. He was deeply committed to recording the history and architecture of Shropshire, a commitment demonstrated by his book, Shropshire Houses Past & Present (1901), which he both wrote and illustrated. Stanley died shortly before the book was printed, and his wife, Jessie (née Williams-Wynn, d. 1939), provided the book’s postscript.

Frances Christina Leighton, d. 1930 Eldest daughter of Mary Leighton. Frances inherited her mother’s aptitude as an artist, and her drawings reveal an easy facility with watercolor. In 1862 she married Reverend Edward George Baldwin Childe (1818–1898), heir to Kyre Park, Worcestershire. Frances shared the antiquarian interests of her mother, uncle, and brother Stanley, and she edited or otherwise aided in the publication of registers and local histories of Shropshire and Worcestershire. Perhaps the best known of these publications is The Kyre Park Charters (Oxford, 1905), which offers a detailed history of the estate and the parishes of which it was part.

Isabella Leighton, d. 1911: Second daughter of Mary Leighton. In 1857 Isabella married the much older Conservative Party politician Beriah Botfield (1807–1863), whose fortune came from his family’s foundry and coalmines. He was a devoted art collector and bibliophile, even installing a printing press at his home, Norton Hall, in Northamptonshire. Isabella later married Liberal Party politician Alfred Seymour (1824–1888).

Charlotte Leighton, d. 1928: Third daughter of Mary Leighton. Charlotte married late in life to William Henry Adelbert Feilding (1836–1895), after whom the city of Feilding, North Island, New Zealand, is named. As a Director of the Emigrants’ and Colonists’ Aid Corporation, William oversaw the acquisition of land on which the original colony developed. Due to his work in emigration policy William traveled widely, as did Charlotte after their marriage, and her diary of an 1895 trip to Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore is in the UK National Archives. It was on this trip that William fell ill with cholera and died in Bangkok, where he was buried. Following his death, Charlotte compiled William’s memoirs, maintained a commonplace book of the Feilding family, and shepherded his posthumous reputation.

Bibliography

  • “The Early Days.” Feilding Star, VIII, no. 2100 (19 June 1913): 2.
  • Amphlett, John, ed. The Kyre Park Charters. Oxford: Printed by James Parker and Co., 1905.
  • Baldwyn-Childe, Frances Christina, ed. Extracts from Letters and Speeches of Sir Baldwyn Leighton. Shrewsbury: Privately printed, 1875.
  • Bermingham, Ann. Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Courtney, W.P. “Botfield, Beriah (1807–1863).” Rev. A.S.G. Edwards. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2960, accessed 4 November 2011].
  • Ellis, Megan. “Mary Parker (Lady Leighton) and ‘The Ladies of Llangollen.’” The National Library of Wales Journal V, no. 1 (Summer 1947): 207–208.
  • Goodall, M.A. “Parker, John (1798–1860).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21322, accessed 4 November 2011].
  • Jerman, H. N. “Water Colour Drawings by the Reverend John Parker.” The National Library of Wales Journal IV, nos. 1–2 (Summer 1945): 90–91.
  • Kenyon, F.G. “Leighton, Stanley (1837–1901).” Rev. H. C. G. Matthew. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34484, accessed 4 November 2011].
  • Leighton, Baldwyn, ed. Letters and Other Writings of the Late Edward Denison. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1872.
  • Leighton, Stanley. Shropshire Houses Past & Present. London: George Bell & Son, 1901.
  • Mavor, Elizabeth. Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1971.
  • Parker, John. The Passengers, Containing the Celtic Annals. London: Printed by B. McMillan, 1831.
  • Parry, Edward. "The Revd John Parker: ‘a warm partizan of Gothic art'." Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, vol. 64, (2020): 90-114.
Title
Mary Leighton Collection
Status
Completed
Author
compiled by Elizabeth Athens; edited by Francis Lapka
Date
2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

Contact:
Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts
1080 Chapel Street
P. O. Box 208280
New Haven CT 06520-8280 US
203-432-2814

Location

1080 Chapel Street
New Haven , CT 06510

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