Sunday, 18 August 2013

Walking the Malvern Hills

A recent drive to one of my favourite parts of England coincided with a delightfully warm day, if a little muggy. Not that the hills are by any means the highest in the country, simply the countryside both east and west is predominantly flat and offers a perfect view of the quintessential patchwork farmland. .I was reminded of a passage from one of my earliest books, Worcestershire Place Names, and this story of one of the most respected individuals to live in the area. As we shall see this lady’s early life was hardly an easy time for her.

Lady Lyttleton was born Apphia Witts in 1743, the second daughter of one Broome Witts. At the age of 24 she became engaged to her cousin Richard Witts, he spending much of his time away working for the East India Company. In 1769 she embarked for India, where the couple would marry on her arrival and yet she arrived only to discover her husband-to-be had died during her voyage.

Grief-stricken and penniless he met Colonel James Peach, an army veteran and governor of Calcutta. A whirlwind romance saw the couple marry the following January. Whilst she had managed to marry this one they had hardly had time to get to know watch other for six months later he was also dead. He had contracted a fever and within ten days of falling ill had made her a widow.

Mrs Peach, as she now was, returned to England and went to live at Shenstone where she met the Honourable Thomas Lyttleton – a man who was ‘honourable’ only in title - a notorious rake of his day and clearly only interested in the considerable wealth she had inherited from Colonel Peach. Somehow he managed to convince her his reputation was an exaggeration, the impetuosity of youth and he was a reformed character. Hence he became her second husband in 1772. However with the ink barely dry on the marriage certificate he was already showing his true colours. With his mind clearly on the money he made his way back to the wedding carriage without his bride and, when he apologised for his oversight, managed to refer to the new Lady Lyttleton as ‘Mrs Peach’! A few short months later and she was alone again and now living with her father-in-law, George Lyttleton, at Hagley Hall. She came to Malvern around the end of the eighteenth century, eventually settling in the home she had had built which she named Peachfield Lodge in memory of her beloved first husband.

Lady Lyttleton was soon a leading personality around Malvern as it grew from a village to a town. She rarely left her home, where her role as a hostess was legendary, although she did venture out to Madresfield Court when in her eighties where she charmed the Duchess of Kent and a young Princess Victoria to such a degree they wrote and thanked her personally for their ‘unforgettable summer’.

Despite a number of heart-breaking setbacks in her early life, Lady Lyttleton overcame them to see her ninety-sixth year. Reports seem to indicate most of the town turned out to her funeral, shops were closed, the crowds spilled out into the churchyard and many others watched the funeral procession from windows, doorways and even rooftops to witness the end of an era in Malvern’s history.

Unlike Lady Lyttleton we parked at the British Camp car park where, on returning to the car, had time to cross to the small café on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border for a well-deserved ice cream from a local dairy. Highly recommended.

As always I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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