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Fairford Park, home of the Barker family

Scandals in Oxfordshire’s High Society

They say that "where there's muck there's brass"; But perhaps it's even more true to say that "where social climbing and aspirations of class exist, scandal will raise its ugly head"
Edward Lovden Loveden (1749–1822). By George Romney

"Anne staggered out with her skirts hitched round her legs"

Julie Ann Godson

 

Third time lucky, or so they say. Try telling that to poor Edward Loveden Loveden of Buscot Park near Faringdon.

By the time he was 38 he had been widowed twice. He considered the matter for a full six years before taking the plunge for a third time in 1794. How delighted he must have been with his ultimate choice of bride – a lovely young woman half his age at 21.

Anne Lintall, daughter of Thomas Lintall of modest little Norbiton Hall in Surrey, was doubtless amazed at her good fortune when she first set eyes upon her palatial marital home at Buscot Park. Under construction since 1780, the neo-classical house and park were now largely complete, though Edward continued to fiddle with the design of the gardens for years.

This is an extract from Scandal in High Society Oxfordshire by Julie Ann Godson, available later this year.

 

But settling in to a life with a husband constantly away attending to his duties as an MP, Lieutenant Colonel of the Berkshire militia, and a Fellow of the Royal Society wasn’t easy for young Anne. And carving out a place for herself in a household where her step-children were only a few years younger than herself was perhaps a challenge too.

Some ten years into the childless marriage, the servants began to notice an attachment forming between their mistress and a handsome young family friend. Temptation presented itself in the dashing form of known-ladies’-man Thomas (“Tom”) Raymond Barker of Fairford Park in Gloucestershire. Barker was several years Anne’s junior, a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and the younger son of an old friend of Edward’s. Edward had treated the boy with great generosity and hospitality over the years, supporting him financially at Oxford, allowing him frequently to stay overnight at Buscot when journeying between Fairford and the University, and even providing him with an expensive horse for the purpose.

During Edward’s many absences, Tom was a frequent visitor, walking arm-in-arm with Anne in the grounds and remaining for long periods in seclusion with her in her private drawing-room – normally a no-go area for gentlemen. When Tom was a guest in the house, Anne ordered the servants to send callers away. Damningly, the butler Hastings noticed that the pair would play “footsie” under the breakfast table in what he later called “a very peculiar and indecent fashion”.

By 1807 Edward began to suspect his wife, but his friend Francis Knight advised that it would be unwise to make a fuss unless he had positive evidence of Anne’s betrayal. Barker was known for his skirt-chasing, Knight reasoned, and this was probably just another of his crass flirtations.

Meanwhile, the servants were still alert to each and every occasion upon which Anne would emerge from an encounter with Barker looking flustered and dishevelled. During a trip to London, Anne picked up Tom in her carriage and, contrary to her usual custom, kept the blinds down in spite of stifling weather. After the carriage had driven about a bit, Anne emerged looking “much heated and red” and with her hair in a mess.

On another occasion, the lovers came close to being discovered in flagrante in the greenhouse. A further close shave occurred when the cook searched high and low to ask Anne’s advice on preparing a particularly delicate dish. At last Anne staggered out of the dining room with her skirts hitched round her legs. The drip, drip effect of such tales from the servants was by now too much. Edward Loveden forbade Tom once and for all from entering the house and grounds at Buscot Park.

But he did, and the servants were by now on high alert. Prompted by Anne’s surreptitious oiling of the locks to her rooms, they mounted a vigil one night in August 1808 when Edward was away in Abingdon. Outside in the dark, Hastings confronted Tom Barker with a loaded pistol as he jumped from the roof of the privy.

A discussion between the two men followed during which Hastings claimed he offered to keep the incident quiet if Barker solemnly undertook never to visit Buscot again. A cynic might speculate that, as well as wishing to preserve his master from the upset and humiliation that would inevitably result from disclosure, Hastings may well have spotted a nice little earner.

Barker now stayed away, and Anne began to write desperate letters, one of which, in particular, would come back to haunt her. By the following spring she could bear the separation no longer, and when Edward was again away, this time visiting his son in Woodstock, she admitted Tom to the house. Something of a farce ensued. Suspecting the presence of Barker, Hastings ordered the under-butler to climb onto a stool teetering on the window-sill outside the study and peer in. From this somewhat undignified position, the under-butler was able to confirm that, cringing against the inside wall below, was Tom Barker.

In the ensuing court proceedings, and probably to the chagrin of both sides, a letter from Anne was read out for all to hear providing Barker with a sort of timetable specifying the weeks when she might best avoid conceiving. It looked as if Edward would get his divorce, but when he was ordered to pay Anne alimony of £400 a year, he furiously dropped the case. So not only had he publicly ejected Anne from his household and allowed the public revelation of the embarrassing letter concerning her monthly cycle, but now he had also deprived Anne and Barker of the chance to marry and left his wife with only her pin money to live on – perhaps around £100 a year. It was Edward Loveden Loveden’s final revenge.

But the wronged husband turned out to be the biggest loser. He suffered public ridicule as the cuckolded old fool whose young wife had given herself with enthusiasm to a younger man. Loveden retired from most of his his public duties. Barker jumped from his academic position before he was pushed, and acquired a handsome 300-acre farm in Buckinghamshire, where he employed 36 men and eight boys. In spite of his colourful history he served as a local magistrate, and three years after Anne’s death in 1821, he married at last.

 

This is an extract from Scandal in High Society Oxfordshire by Julie Ann Godson, available later this year. Keep an eye on her website.

 

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