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Lady Warwick’s Horticultural & Agricultural College for Women


Daisy, Countess of Warwick

In the mid-1890s, Daisy Warwick shocked society with her interest in socialist politics. At the time, British Socialism was a growing menace to the aristocracy and landed gentry, who viewed these working class rabble-rousers with disdain and anxiety. Daisy’s conversion to socialism came about when the Clarion, a weekly socialist newspaper, lambasted the lavish house-warming ball and party the naive Daisy felt sure was alleviating the poverty of the area. She traveled to Fleet Street as soon as possible to confront the editor of the newspaper, Robert Blatchford, only for Blatchford to rip apart everything she believed to be true. From then on, Daisy was determined to use her wealth and position to help the less fortunate. This of course caused much strain on her personal relationships, particularly with the Prince of Wales (though their romantic relationship quickly cooled, they remained great friends).

A few years after her conversion to socialism, Daisy grew just as interested in women’s rights, and was keenly interested in women’s education and employment. To that end, she decided to train educated women (that is, middle-class women) in horticulture and agriculture. She had already established a hostel for women pupils attending Reading College, and it seemed to her that “training at the Reading College in dairy work, market gardening, poultry-farming, bee-keeping, fruit growing, horticulture and grading, packing and marketing of produce, would appeal to many women of education, and would do something to meet the complaint that foreign competition was proving too much for our market gardeners.” She soon separated her hostel from Reading College and moved it to Studley Castle in Warwickshire in 1903, where it was named Studley Horticultural & Agricultural College for Women.

Tutor and students in garden. 1910
© Warwickshire County Council

A contemporary description of the college:–

The park in which the College is situated is 340 acres in extent, and includes gardens and glass houses. The founder is responsible for the maintenance of the College, and Lady Warwick is assisted in its management by a committee of ladies and gentlemen. Instruction is given in horticulture, dairy-work, poultry keeping, bee keeping, fruit bottling and preserving, marketing, manual processes, and business methods, and students are prepared for the National Diploma in Dairying, the Certificates and Diplomas of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association, the College Certificate and Diploma in Dairying, and the examinations of the Royal Horticultural Society. The Certificate Courses are usually for one year, and the Diploma Courses for two years, with three years in the case of horticulture and bee keeping combined. The session is of forty weeks’ duration, and consists of three terms of about thirteen weeks each, beginning in September, January, and May. The number of students is between 30 and 40.

Fees.—Full training, with board and residence, £80 to £120 ($400 to $600), according to accommodation required, with extras for bee keeping, fruit bottling, etc. Non-resident students, £1 5s. a week or £13 6s. 8d. per term.

Nature Study Courses of two weeks for men and women are held in the summer, the women being accommodated at the College, and the men in farm lodgings. Fees, £5 5s ($25)., inclusive.

Staff.—Founder: Lady Warwick. Warden: Miss Mabel C. Faithfull. Horticulture: Mr. W. Iggulden, F.R.H.S.; Mr. W. Sarsons. Botany: Mr. W. B. Groves, M.A. (Cantab). Poultry: Mr. George A. Palmer. Dairy Farming and Agriculture—Dairy Instructress: Miss K. A. Baynes, N.D.D., B.D.F.A., Diploma. Book Keeping and Business Training: Mr. A. E. M. Long (Chartered Accountant). Apiculture: Mr. W. Herrod, F.E.S. Fruit Bottling and Jam Making: Miss Cran. Cooking Lessons: Miss Faithfull.

Studley College
© Best Western Studley Castle Hotel

As it turns out, Daisy was right on the nose, for Edwardian England’s greatest garden designer was a woman–Gertrude Jekyll, whose partnership with Edwin Lutyens produced some of England’s finest gardens. Jekyll, however, studied at the South Kensington School of Art, but famous alumni of Studley College included Adela Pankhurst and Taki Handa a “student and instructor at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, Japan, who studied at Studley from 1906-1907, and designed a garden at Cowden Estate in Muckhart, Scotland.” Studley College remained an all-female agricultural college until it closed in 1969 (the castle is now a Best Western hotel), long after Lady Warwick’s death, and it joined Swanley Horticultural College for Women in Kent, and Frances Wolseley’s School of Gardening for Ladies, as a tangible method for “surplus” Victorian and Edwardian women to control their destinies.

Further Reading:
History of Studley Castle
Photographs of Studley College, ca 1910-1930
Horticultural Education in England, 1900-40: Middle-Class Women and Private Gardening Schools” Garden History
Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 2003) by Anne Meredith

A life of contrast: Daisy, Countess of Warwick


Daisy, Countess of Warwick

by Victoria Fishburn

Imagine a beautiful woman from Edwardian England who married an Earl, became mistress to the Prince of Wales and astonished Society by standing as a Labour candidate for Parliament. Such a woman was Daisy, Countess of Warwick. Her words, written in two memoirs and countless other books, are still quoted by most historians of the period. In her youth, she was famous for her looks. Cartes-de-visites with her likeness were bought by those who followed the ‘Professional Beauties’, society women whose beauty was admired amongst all classes. Her friend Elinor Glyn referred to her as an ‘It girl’. The fair, curvaceous heiress hit London Society in the 1880s but, although she was painted by Sargent and sculpted by Rodin, her beauty was only part of the reason that she was famous in her lifetime. Even today, her name is widely recognized. This is largely because the life that she led followed so unconventional a path. Despite having good looks, a fortune, a lasting marriage and nine successful years as mistress to the Prince of Wales behind her, she embarked upon a radical life as a social reformer.

My interest in her was sparked by the sheer unlikeliness of her character. She leaves a confusing legacy: an heiress, a Countess and a landowner and yet she signed up to the socialist ideal of land nationalization and tried to give her house away. She had the love of the Prince and yet she pestered him with her ideas for reform. Hugely extravagant, she spent lavishly on entertaining her guests, whilst supporting reforms to help the poor and downtrodden. She stood for a parliamentary seat as a candidate for the Labour party but appeared on political platforms dressed in pearls and furs. Daisy’s life was marked out as unusual from the age of three when she inherited the estates of her grandfather, her father having already died.

The self-confidence and determined independence that characterized her approach to life, started early. She rode dangerous racehorses from her stepfather’s stable, she went to the theatre with Disraeli and, most shockingly, she thwarted the plans of Queen Victoria to marry her to the youngest Prince, her haemophiliac son, Leopold. Brookie was a good catch as heir to the Earl of Warwick but did not have the cachet of a Prince. Young, active and gorgeous she swept all before her as she reveled in her position as Lady Brooke. Having produced a son for her husband, infidelity was accepted in the aristocratic circles in which she moved, as long as affairs were conducted according to that all-important quality of the age: discretion. Daisy threw parties, she bought dresses from Paris by the great French designers, Charles Worth and Doucet, she had lovers and she hunted. But the same impulsiveness that she brought to the hunting field made her indiscreet.

Her reputation was first tarnished by a reckless letter she wrote to her lover, Lord Charles Beresford, berating him for his wife’s pregnancy. The affair foundered at the insult to his wife and recognizing the dire threat of ruin to her reputation, Daisy fled into the arms of the Prince. She entertained Bertie and his friends, first at her own Essex estate and subsequently at Warwick Castle, inherited by her husband Lord Brooke in 1893. Her years as royal mistress should have made her reputation unassailable but even then she was criticized for her indiscreet gossip: a gambling deal involving the Prince of Wales, earned her the nickname, ‘Babbling Brooke’. But both Bertie and Brookie were devoted to her and put up with a great deal. Brookie wrote that he would rather have been married to Daisy ‘with all her peccadilloes’ than to any other woman in the world. They remained married until his death.

Like so many who lavishly entertained their future King, Daisy was extravagant and, what had seemed a great fortune, diminished to the point when she had to sell many of her possessions and property. Her most ignominious episode came about because of debt. After the death of Edward VII, she attempted to raise money by the sale of his love letters to her, offering them, at a price, to George V. The royal advisers were not moved to help her, despite the fact that she had never had the financial benefits and protection given to some of Edward’s other mistresses. She was threatened with an injunction and forced to give the letters to the King. Kept secret at the time, this affair emerged in the 1960s in a book by Theo Lang called ‘My Darling Daisy’ – the affectionate address used by the Prince of Wales in his letters. The name stuck.

daisy-warwick005She was given many labels in her life: Professional Beauty, It girl, Babbling Brooke and My Darling Daisy but, before the end of her life, the Countess of Warwick was known by another, and very unlikely, name: the Socialist Countess. At a time when many Edwardians were clinging to the vestiges of a glamorous Society life which was to end with the First World War, Daisy was again stepping out of the mould. Her kind nature and sympathy with those suffering hardship, had inspired her to many philanthropic actions over the years. She had started a home for cripples and a needlework school for rural girls with a shop to sell their work. She funded a secondary school and championed the cause of women’s education by establishing a training college for women. When her days as royal mistress were behind her, she became interested in the rising Socialist movement. Philanthropy turned to Socialism by 1904, when she joined the Social Democratic Foundation. It perplexed her society friends that she should join the highly unfashionable world of trade unionists and socialists. But Daisy had changed. She was no longer interested in Society, her friends now encompassed many fellow Socialists: George Bernard Shaw, H.G.Wells and Gustav Holst were amongst them.

Bravely independent, Daisy increased her literary output in order to make some money. Although never an author of the calibre of Shaw or Wells, it is through her writing that Daisy Warwick maintains her hold on posterity. Between 1898 and 1934, twelve books came out under her name, the first a book on gardens. The subjects were varied: essays on Socialism; a short biography of the leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris; a well-respected history of Warwick Castle; a book of essays on the First World War and two substantial books of memoirs. She edited and wrote introductions or essays for a further eight books. Daisy sailed to America in 1912, to give a lecture tour in New York and Washington: the newspapers were full of the outfits she wore and were more interested in society gossip than the socialism she wanted to preach. Back home she contributed articles to London newspapers and the Daily Sketch commissioned her as an advice columnist and editor of their womens’ page. This astonishing literary output kept her name in the public eye.

In 1923, Daisy Warwick stood as a candidate for the Labour Party for the parliamentary seat of Warwick and Leamington. Her opponent was her relation, and later Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. But the overdressed Countess of Warwick, who owed money to many of those who might have supported her, was shunned and, ignominiously, beaten into third place. With this result, she left parliamentary ambitions behind her although she continued to support the Labour Party. In the late 1920s she tried to give her house in Essex away, first to the Labour Party and, when that failed, to the Trade Union Congress. Ironically, it was the fact that she was a Countess and a symbol of privilege that caused the rejection of her offer. Disillusioned with socialism, she retreated back to her home and an old age concerned with the welfare of animals.

Daisy Warwick’s seventy-eight years had been eventful: from her birth as a beautiful and privileged heiress to an old age where looks, money and society friends had all gone. But her name lives on today and this is where her literary output has extended her fame. She is a valuable source for most historians of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. Theo Aronson in The King in Love, Stanley Weintraub in Edward, King in Waiting, Henry Vane in Affair of State, Leo McKinstry in his recent biography of Rosebery, Andrew Roberts in Salisbury: Victorian Titan and Anthony Allfrey in Edward VII and his Jewish Court are just some of the many historians who use Daisy’s insights taken from her memoirs and other writings.

Victoria Fishburn is presently writing a biography on Daisy, Countess of Warwick and can be contacted by email: victoria [at] fishburns [dot] co [dot] uk.