In March 2022, we acquired a charming Victorian portrait of a young lady wearing a sun hat, white dress, and coral necklace. Draped over her arms, a black cat with a red collar. It’s signed Alfred Corbould and the sitter is Lucy Wickham of Binsted Wyck, Alton, Hampshire. Little did we know that by unravelling the layers of history behind this remarkable piece, it would unearth a fascinating story of Brontë proportions.
Alfred Corbould, Portrait Of Lucy Wickham (1866)
All too often, portraits carry no clue as to their prior history and details of the sitter are usually lost to time. Inscriptions can be erased and auctions rarely divulge any useful provenance. But in this instance, we had a full name, allowing us to scour the ancestry records to discover the truth.
Lucy Wickham was born to William Wickham (1831-1897), Member of Parliament for Petersfield, and Sophia Wickham (nee Lefevre), granddaughter of General Le Marchand. The Wickham family had long been resident at Wyck Place, a secluded manor house near Alton in Hampshire.
Wyck Place dates to the 17th century but was substantially remodelled by Lucy’s great grandfather, the Rt Hon William Wickham (1761-1840), an ingenious politician who worked as Spymaster during the French Revolutionary Wars. He held various posts in Government including chargé d’affaires to Switzerland and Lord of the Treasury but resigned in 1804 denouncing Government policy as “oppressive”. If you’re familiar with the name, his character appeared in the historical drama, Poldark.
Somewhat surprisingly, and probably to gain some much-needed respite, William Wickham found the time to commission an overhaul of the estate, which included the planting of exotic trees such as Cedars of Lebanon, swamp cypress and gingko. Various seeds were also sent from Paris and the gardens became a veritable bloom of flowering earthly delights.
William’s fortune had descended the family line from William of Wykeham (1320-1404), Bishop of Winchester and founder of New College, Oxford. Rising from humble beginnings, he’d become one of the richest men in Britain. His motto of ‘Manners Makyth Man’ is emblazoned prominently throughout the house.
Next in line was Henry Lewis Wickham (1789-1864), the Chairman of the Boards of Stamps and Taxes, who in turn passed the estate to his son, William, Lucy’s father.
William Wickham (1831-1897)
Born in London, William rose to prominence as a Member of Parliament for Petersfield and the High Sheriff of Hampshire. An enlightened gentleman, he was also a member of the ‘Linnean Society’, which sought to disseminate information regarding natural history, evolution, and taxonomy. One can imagine William’s library housing an array of academic journals, and folios dedicated to plant minutiae. He received an M.A. degree from Balliol College, Oxford.
Together with wife, Sophia, the pair took up the horticultural baton and developed the estate further. A fernery was added along with additional developments to the house including a distinctive tower. Wyck Place was a beacon of Victorian fancy, a romantic retreat inspired by history. Following William’s death, Sophia remained until 1929 when it passed to Lucy (now Ogilvy).
When Lucy inherited Wyck Place, she was 65 and widowed. The gardens were opened regularly to the public and woodland walks were encouraged. Her daughter, Charlotte Helen Bonham-Carter (1893-1989) was the last descendant to live there.
As a child, Lucy was raised amid sumptuous environs. The Wickhams employed ten servants including a governess, cook, two lady’s maids, housemaids, a footman and butler. Her dining room, with its large windows, overlooked a picturesque lake and countryside. While the drawing room housed various family portraits, one of which was probably the one we’ve acquired.
Although, it seems she also spent many years at the family’s townhouse in Hanover Square, London. Presumably because of her father’s various obligations. Census records from 1871 and 1881 record her living here.
In 1889, Lucy became an ‘Ogilvy’ when marrying Colonel William Lewis Kinloch Ogilvy. He was 24 years older and led a distinguished military career. Entering the Army in 1857, he served in the Zulu War, Boer War and Egyptian War, receiving various honours. He’d been a loyal servant of the crown, involved in a significant amount of action. Two years after his marriage, he was placed on retirement pay.
The couple moved into a cottage at Winchester, Hampshire, and had two children, Charlotte and William. Their home was abundant with rural splendour and named Itchen Cottage. It appears life was progressing well as this remained their home until around 1899 when they returned to London.
A Fateful Trip To Malvern
What follows is a most dreadful incident and we can only speculate as to the reasons why it occurred. In 1900, during a trip to Great Malvern, Colonel Ogilvy attempted to murder Lucy before taking his own life. A newspaper report describes the events.
“An inquest was held on Monday at Great Malvern on the death of William Lewis Kinloch Ogilvy, a retired colonel, aged fifty-eight years. Dr Fernie, of the Hydropathic Establishment, Malvern said on January 31st, deceased came to the establishment. The hydropathic was not for treatment of insane cases, and witness would not have taken in deceased if he had known his to be such.
He carefully examined him as to his mental condition, but the result did not show anything to cause him to treat deceased otherwise than an ordinary patient. He seemed absent in his manner, but witness did not suspect him to be of unsound mind.
On Saturday last witness heard screams in a bedroom, and on going thither he saw Mrs Ogilvy bleeding from the head, and Mr Ogilvy with a poker in his hand. He took the poker from deceased and got him back into bed and attended to Mrs Ogilvy. Deceased, however, jumped out of bed again, and called out, ‘Come and see, I’ve murdered my wife.’
He got back to his bedroom and a man was put in charge, but nevertheless he contrived to get a razor and cut his throat so severely that he died before surgical aid could be secured. The jury returned a verdict that deceased committed suicide by cutting his own throat, being at the time of unsound mind.”
If these events are accurate, this tragedy could’ve been the result of, what we’d refer to today as, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seems plausible given the Colonel’s lengthy exposure to the front line. He undoubtedly witnessed some horrifying events and his was a stoic generation that kept their feelings under wraps.
Lucy, understandably grief-stricken, remained in London with her two children while also spending time at the family seat at Binsted Wyck, and Ireland. In 1918, an identity card records her trip to Ireland, probably to visit her sister Eléonore. But this was also the year of another tragedy, as her son, who was serving in World War I, was killed on the battlefield.
Young William’s acting C.O. wrote:
“He was doing magnificent work at the time, as he always did, showing the greatest bravery and contempt for danger. I looked upon your son as one of the most promising officers in the regiment. At the time he was commanding a detachment of the whole regiment, which he did in his usual calm, confident and brave manner. I cannot speak too highly of his soldierly conduct”.
It’s overwhelmingly difficult to imagine how Lucy and her daughter, Charlotte, coped at this time. Their world shaken twice in such terrible circumstances.
Following the death of her mother, Sophia, in 1929, Lucy inherited the estate. During this later period of her life, she’s recorded as the President of the Women’s Institute, Wickham, while also involved in various community projects.
In 1946, Binstead Wyck was passed to Lady Charlotte Bonham-Carter who remained there until 1989, aged 96. Blessed with the kindest of hearts, she was a generous philanthropist and a keen supporter of the arts. The Tate holds a special portrait of her by Peter Greenham (1909-1992).
She’s wearing a beautiful dress by Fortuny purchased in 1922 - during a memorable trip to Venice with her mother.
Should you wish to learn more about Lucy Ogilvy (née Wickham), her extensive diaries are held at Winchester archives.
Born in London. The eldest daughter of William Wickham and Sophia Wickham (nee Lefevre), granddaughter of General Le Marchand.
Portrait completed by Alfred Corbould.
Recorded in the census as living at Hanover Square, London, with her grandfather (a merchant), mother, and eight servants.
Recorded in the census as living at Hanover Square, London, with her mother, father, sister and nine servants.
Married Colonel William Lewis Kinloch Ogilvy.
Lived in Cork, Ireland for around one year.
Moved to Itchen Abbas, Winchester, Hampshire.
Recorded in the census as living at the family home of 9 Binsted Wyck House, Hampshire, together with her husband, parents, sister, nephew and ten servants.
Birth of daughter Charlotte.
Birth of son, William.
Death of father, William Wickham. Personal estate valued at £38,587 (equates to around £4,000,000 with inflation).
Sale of Itchen Cottage and Lucy moved to London with her husband.
Death of her husband William in Great Malvern.
Divided her time between London, Binsted Wyck (the family seat), and Ireland.
Recorded in the census as living at Hanover Square, London, with her son William, daughter Charlotte, Henry J Clements (visitor), and six servants.
Travelled to Ireland, probably to visit her sister Eléonore.
Death of son William Wickham Ogilvy.
Death of her mother.
Became President of the Women’s Institute, Wickham (possibly earlier).
Living at Binsted Wyck, Alton with a registered nurse, butler, cook and lady’s maid.