Happy New Year to all! We’ve been lucky with weather today and went out for a New Year’s Day walk at a National Trust property we hadn’t visited before. In fact there wasn’t much actual property there as the house had burned down many years ago. There are however wonderful grounds and woods to walk through, and walk through we did.
The place we visited is Fyne Court in Somerset, which had been owned by the Crosse family for many years. The fire occurred in 1894, but before that it must have been a magnificent house – all that remains now are some buildings which were separate to it, and in the grounds a folly and a boathouse.
The most famous resident of Fyne Court, Andrew Crosse, born in 1784, was, from the age of twelve was passionately interested in science and in particular electricity. This interest came from his father who counted among his friends Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestley, and his mother who encouraged him to pursue his hobby. He lost his parents while he was still very young, his father when he was sixteen, and his mother five years later. He had been studying law, but on the death of his mother he took over the running of the estate and built his own scientific laboratory where he conducted many experiments. This building is one of the few which remain. It was rumoured that he was the inspiration for Dr Frankenstein, but most people think this was just a myth. Andrew was highly regarded and knew many of the men of science at the time, including Humphrey Davey and George John Singer.
He married twice and had several children with his first wife, sadly not all of them survived to adulthood, and other children with his second wife. I always think it’s fascinating to explore individuals from the past and fine their details in the census records. So I looked him up, and in 1841, Andrew is recorded as living in Finecourt with his first wife Mary Ann who was four years older than he was, and their twenty-two year-old daughter, Isabella. The census of 1851 is much more interesting as it has more details, and there are more people at Fine Court
In 1851, Andrew was sixty-six and staying in the house was his mother-in-law Cornelia Berkley who was over twenty years younger than he was! Along with mother-in-law, were Andrew’s sister-in-law, fourteen year old Ellen, and his wife, twenty-four year old Cornelia whose occupation is given as ‘authoress’. As well as servants, there were visitors in the house, Edward – a barrister at law and editor of journal, and Marlinda, maybe his wife, maybe his daughter and his son Irwin. Four years after this census record, Andrew dies… I wonder what became of Cornelia and the children she had with Andrew? I must explore further.
As we wandered around the woodlands, past ponds and little waterfalls, up trails and down steps there was little trace of the house, just hummocks and dips in the ground. There was still a fine and well-proportioned vegetable garden, empty except for grass, but nature really had taken over.
Here’s an article about Andrew
and a more detailed description of his life and experiments: