When I was researching my life of Wilberforce’s friend, Hannah More, it was impossible for me to visit Barley Wood, her home in Wrington, Somerset from 1801 to 1828, as it was owned by a charitable institution. But it is now being renovated and put on the market and the grounds are open to the public. Here is the English Heritage description of the house, and here is an account of the walled garden. Hannah More was a passionate gardener and she would surely have been delighted to know that the garden on which she took such pains was being renovated. The urn commemorating her hero, John Locke, given her by her bluestocking friend, Elizabeth Montagu, is still there, as is an urn to her great friend, Beilby Porteus (1731-1809), bishop of London.
Hannah More’s friend, Marianne Thornton, wrote down for her great-nephew, E. M. Forster, her childhood memories of Barley Wood: ‘There never was such a house, so full of intellect and piety and active benevolence’. She remembered being sent off with a village child to buy chickens at the next farm’, being fed with strawberries and cream ‘& told to lie down on the hay whilst Charles, the Coachman, Gardener, Bailiff & Carpenter, made us a syllabub under the cow’. [quoted Anne Stott, Hannah More: the First Victorian, Oxford, 2003, p. 291]
Nearby is Wrington church, where Hannah More and her five sisters are buried. A friend took this photograph recently. The five sisters are Mary, 1738-1813; Elizabeth (Betty), 1740-1816; Sarah (Sally), 1743-1817; Hannah, 1745-1833; and Martha (Patty), Hannah’s best-beloved sister (1750-1819). As I write in my book (p. 332),
‘Five spinsters, born into circumstances of failure and near poverty, forced to earn their livings, and succeeding triumphantly in their vocations, they had shown what it was possible for women to achieve in an environment that was at best ambivalent, and at worst hostile to women on their own. Twenty-five years after Hannah’s death, Marianne Thornton stood by the quiet grave, remembered the golden childhood summers, the anecdotes of Garrick and Johnson, the schools and clubs, the inspiring teaching, the bustling kindness, and reflected, “God has given them a better name than that of sons and daughters”.’