Let us introduce you to Andalusia, our 8th baronet Sir William Molesworth’s wife. She was born 6 Dec 1809. Not much is known about her parents, Bruce Carstairs and Andalusia Grant who were married 30th Dec 1804 in St Martins in the Field, London. Andalusia’s memorial to her father in Egloshayle Parish church, named him James Bruce Carstairs and stated that he was the last surviving member of the family of Sir James Bruce, Bart of Kinross, Scotland, although there is no evidence to support her claim.
In 1824 her father applied on her behalf, for a place at the newly established Royal Academy of Music. He signed his name James Carstairs Grant, and left a blank under the ‘business of father’ column, a man of mystery! Perhaps this was an attempt to distance himself from her choice of career as a singer, as it wasn’t deemed respectable at that point. The fee was 10 guineas per year and Andalusia was 15 when she started. Her application was supported by Sir John Murray, who was a committee member and had a hand in establishing the Academy in 1823. Perhaps that means her father had influence, or maybe it was simply Andalusia’s talent that guaranteed her place.
We know she won a prize for singing whilst at the Academy, and her first public appearance in a concert was at Covent Garden in 1827. Later she went on to sing in Bath, in the Pump Rooms, invited by the leading tenor of the day, John Braham. A review in the Morning Post said ‘Her voice is remarkably powerful & sweet, aided by science & taste, & she may be considered to have made what is termed a complete hit.’
In January 1831 the Bath Herald reviewed her performance at a Christmas Eve concert: ‘Behold & See (a duet with Braham from the Messiah, Handel), electrified the audience….. Her performance in the whole of the pieces allotted to her was sweet & beautiful in the extreme.’
Andalusia’s last concert was March 1831, this was because in June 1831 she married Temple West, a patron of concerts held in the Pump Rooms in Bath, he was about 61, she was 21. They married in St George’s Hanover Square, a fashionable church of choice in those times. Little is known about Andalusia during her first marriage, it lasted just under eight years before Temple West died from a massive stroke in April 1839. His will, made within three months of the marriage, left her Mathan Lodge his Worcestershire and some £2000. Now Andalusia was independent and comfortably well off but our trail goes cold for the five years after her husband’s death.
It was in 1844 she attracted the attention of our Sir William Molesworth, he mentioned her in his personal diary whilst living in London’s Half Moon Street. It seemed to be a whirlwind courtship, meeting in March 1844, William proposed on 10th June and their wedding was just a month later, in July 1844 at St George’s in Hanover Square.
Right from the start Andalusia clearly set out to make her mark as the fashionable hostess. she invited guests to a house party at Pencarrow before alterations there were finished and without making sure there was accommodation ready for the guests. She gave soirées at Sir William’s London house in Lowdnes Square, and then dinner parties and musical evenings (at which she sang) after they moved to a larger house in Eaton Place.
Thackery, in a letter to Frances Broomfield wrote of ‘magnificent entertainment provided by Sir William and Lady Molesworth: the banquet was sumptuous in the extreme and the company of the most select order. A delightful concert followed the dinner, and the whole concluded with a sumptuous supper, nor did the company separate until a late hour.’
She threw herself into electioneering for William when he contested the seat of Southwark in 1845, a newspaper account summing up his success as her influence: ‘It is difficult to say how much the energy, tact, ability and charm of his attractive and large-hearted wife contributed to his success. At his Committee Rooms in the Bridge Hotel, on the Southwark side of London Bridge, Lady Molesworth was a constant attendant, and also at the Surrey Sessions House, where the candidates were permitted to make speeches. Her taste in dress was unexceptionable; her charm and ease of manner more than compensated for the frigidity and gaucherie of her philosophical husband, and her warmth of heart made itself felt far and wide.’
William remained an MP throughout the marriage, achieving Cabinet rank in 1852 when he became Commissioner of Public Works and Public Buildings. He and Andalusia were invited to stay at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1853, perhaps partly due to William’s responsibility for Kew Gardens, as well as his interest in garden design and planting which Prince Albert also shared.
It seems Andalusia’s socialising didn’t equate to spending much time at Pencarrow – it is recorded they spent two months in the summer of 1848, but not much else. The couple seemed to prefer London for most of their marriage, with short breaks in Dover, Brighton, Scotland, Hardwick Hall (from where they went to Chatsworth) and France – two months in Le Havre and two weeks in Paris in 1850. Andalusia enjoyed retail therapy it would seem, on both French trips she spent nearly £1000 in Le Havre and over £5000 in Paris!
It is suggested that perhaps Andalusia’s social ambition may have contributed to William’s early death, as he was never robust. With his time and energy devoted to politics, and copious social gatherings, it was seen as burning the candle at both ends by William’s mother and sister. His sister Mary felt Andalusia lacked concern for William during his last illness and she was upset that his wish to be buried at Pencarrow was ignored, in favour of a grandiose tomb in Kensal Green cemetery in London.
In his will, William gave Andalusia the right to live at Pencarrow during her lifetime. Perhaps he thought she might withdraw to Cornwall and live out her days quietly as a widow. Instead Andalusia threw herself into entertaining, resuming dinner parties by 1856, travelling to Paris in late 1856 with Lord Torrington as an escort (although he was married) and in 1859 hosting house parties at Pencarrow.
Lord Torrington as a frequent guest, along with various other Viscounts, Earls or the sons and daughters of aristocracy, Pencarrow’s guests made various literary or artistic contributions in our visitor’s book, and there are two albums with ‘cartes de visite’ (thin paper portrait-photographs on thick paper card) from which we have a list of the names of Andalusia’s guests. There are also various photographs of the guests, including theatrical tableaux where everyone seems to be enjoying themselves!
Towards the end of her life it seems Andalusia suffered poor health. In 1886 a partial reconciliation with Mary, who said they had not communicated for 15 years, was brought about by Venning the family solicitor whilst Andalusia was thought to be at death’s door. She did recover, dying two years later in 1888. She left a few items of furniture and silver to various family members, including Mary, but left the bulk of her personal estate £26,140 13s & 7d to Lord Torrington’s three year old nephew, whom in fact she had never met!
Some thought Andalusia an opportunist gold-digger when she married William, fearing perhaps that the marriage would prove socially and politically disastrous for the couple. However, while it seems William was more attentive to her wishes throughout their marriage than she was to his needs, we cannot be certain that if he had remained an opinionated bachelor he would ever have reached Cabinet-rank. So it seems contrary to prediction, marriage to Andalusia did not hamper William’s political career, the fact that it greatly facilitated his advancement might count as Andalusia’s greatest achievement.
Edited from David Donaldson’s paper on Andalusia’s life.