President’s annual lecture – 2022

The President’s annual lecture will be given by Robin Densem
at Conway Hall on Friday May 27 following the EMAS AGM

Aspects of local and social history in Hertfordshire: the old house at Panshanger and the church at Hertingfordbury

Robin has provided the following summary of his lecture:

The talk will consider the background to the building of Panshanger House in c.1810 by the fifth Earl Cowper, touching on the lives of the earlier earls who had lived nearby in an earlier mansion at Cole Green, the ancestral home of the Cowpers near Hertford, and the landscape architects Capability Brown, and Humphrey Repton who were involved in the siting of Panshanger House in the early nineteenth century. The Cowper family rose through service to the crown, with the first earl having been raised to an earldom by George I in 1718. On the death of the seventh and last earl in the early twentieth century the house passed to Ettie Fane, Lady Desborough, the wife of the first and last Lord Desborough.

The Earls Cowper are of great interest as some diaries written by female members of the family survive, as do remnants of Panshanger House. I find the Desborough family fascinating, particularly though a modern biography of Ettie Fane and her involvement, with her husband, with ‘The Souls’, an elite, aristocratic grouping formed in 1885. The Earls Cowper are buried in or rather under a chapel of the Church of St Mary Hertingfordbury, and aided by historic illustrations we can trace aspects of the history of this beautiful church that was rebuilt, twice, by the Cowpers in the nineteenth century. The Cowpers worshipped at the church and there are large and dramatic memorials to them there, along with a memorial to Lady Desborough. The surviving fragments of Panshanger House, and its site, and the church, can be visited – but it is a long walk to Panshanger House!