Anne Rushout | Rushout’s Wanstead | Rushout on Tour
Lady Anne Rushout (1768-1849)
Modern day Wanstead likes to give a nod and a wink to former local citizens who have played a role in shaping its history. We know all about statesmen Winston Churchill and Sir William Penn, of Sheridan the playwright and of course ‘Wicked’ William Wellesley. But curiously, Wanstead seems distinctly reluctant to celebrate its feminine connections – For example Wikipedia’s ‘notable residents’ of Wanstead list rather embarrassingly contains just one woman, soap-star Jesse Wallace, listed on the basis that she once lived the area!
The most undeservingly neglected lady in Wanstead’s history must be Lady Anne Rushout, who lived at Wanstead Grove from 1817-49.
Anne (left), with Harriet (centre) & Elizabeth (right)
Anne was the eldest daughter of John Rushout, Baron Northwick of Northwick Park (1738-1800) and spent a happy childhood with sisters Harriet (c.1770) and Elizabeth (1774). She was well educated: a keen artist, botanist, diarist and poet, celebrated for her grace and beauty. Yet she was not a conventional young woman, & refused to comply with the male-dominated society in which she lived.
The Ladies of Llangollen – a bluestocking shrine
From a very early age Anne was interested in bluestocking literature, making several trips to Wales to visit the famous Ladies of Llangollen, and keeping a commonplace book filled with feminist prose. It is not known if Anne was lesbian, as her family attributed her strong aversion to marriage to the unfortunate death of her fiancé days before their wedding. I have searched the archives without success to corroborate this claim. But it seems likely that Anne came from a very liberal-minded and supportive family, who propagated this story to protect her reputation.
Wanstead Grove – designed and built by Anne Rushout
In 1817 Anne’s uncle George Bowles died, and she inherited Wanstead Grove. Originally purchased in 1759 by Humphry Bowles, it came with approximately 60 acres named the Grove Estate. It was rare for assets to pass to a female relative at this time, and more unusual still that Anne decided to demolished the house, sell off its ‘out-dated’ works of art, and construct a new magnificent mansion in its place.
Wanstead Grove was built between 1818 and 1824. As its completion coincided with the demolition of Wanstead House, it is likely that various fixtures and fittings sold to satisfy Wicked William’s creditors were snapped up by Anne to augment her new home. In fact Anne bought the very first item offered at the Wanstead House auction in 1822, attending most days afterwards – to pick and choose art and furnishings according to her taste.
In effect therefore, when Wanstead lost a behemoth of a mansion, it gained a successor at Wanstead Grove – which became the single most dominant property in the area. More importantly, Wanstead Grove and its beautifully laid out grounds were completely Anne’s creation – thus demonstrating that women were perfectly capable of operating in the hitherto exclusively male sphere of architecture and design.
Anne spent a great deal of her life at Wanstead Grove and was very much part of local society. Far from being reclusive she was always very charitable, leaving significant bequest to the poor of Wanstead after her death in 1849.
Wanstead Grove is long gone now, having been demolished in 1889 to make way for the Counties Estate. Some remnants of the formal gardens remain, such as the Temple (which once stood at the edge of a picturesque lake) and can be seen annually on Open House Day
But the real legacy Anne Rushout has left Wanstead can be seen in three volumes of drawings she made between 1824-1832, which can be found in the British Art collection at Yale University. She records a splendidly rural and naturally beautiful Wanstead at the end of the Regency era. All of these images are freely searchable over the internet, but I have decided to collate them together in two sections covering Wanstead, and further afield.
Disappointingly, Yale University describes Lady Anne as an ‘amateur artist’. This can only be because she was a woman, for it seems to me that her output and quality of work merits far more than label of a ‘hobby’. I hope that Yale and the people of Wanstead will reassess Lady Anne Rushout as an important proto-feminist, writer, and artist – worthy of full recognition and respect.
Frustratingly for historians, Anne Rushout’s diaries covering 1791-1827 have been missing since the 1950s. As a frequent visitor to Wanstead House during Wicked William’s era of extravagance, she could have provided some valuable insight into what went on behind closed doors.
However, Anne’s journals 1828-1849 are in the possession of Senate House Library in London & her ‘commonplace book’ for the period 1776-1832, which is an extensive scrapbook of ephemera and jottings about fashionable life, can also be found at Yale University.
An excellent on-line history of Wanstead Grove complete with images of the Temple can be found here.
The Counties Resident Association has produced a great history of the Grove Estate
Kelly McDonald has written about Anne Rushout’s connection with Bersted Lodge