Sister of the More Famous Maria

Practical EdYou could have knocked me down with something between a feather and a dumbbell, when, while mooching round Mill Road Cemetery in Cambridge, I came across the grave of Lucy, wife of the Rev. John Robinson, of the Armagh Observatory, and youngest daughter (21st out of 22 children) of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, of Edgeworthstown, Ireland. Her mother, Frances Anne Beaufort, was Edgeworth’s fourth wife, and was born the year after his eldest daughter, Maria. But how had Lucy, born in 1805, and dying in 1898, ended up in the section of the cemetery reserved for parishioners of St Paul’s (my own parish, as it happens)?

The grave of Lucy Jane Robinson, née Edgeworth.

The grave of Lucy Jane Robinson, née Edgeworth.

The cemetery, opened in 1848, was paid for by public subscription, and was intended to provide space for the many ancient city centre churches (including St Bene’ts and St Botolph’s) of which the graveyards were already full.

St Paul's church, Hills Road, Cambridge.

St Paul’s church, Hills Road, Cambridge.

St Paul’s, built in 1841 as housing began to spread down Hills Road, and considerably enlarged in 1864 (the opening of the railway station in 1845 led to the rapid infilling of the open spaces on either side of the road), had no churchyard, and, as can be seen from the diagram below, a significant proportion of the space in Mill Road was dedicated to burials from this new parish.

The cemetery plan.

The cemetery plan.

I was interested to discover that the open grassy space in the middle of the cemetery was the site of the mortuary chapel, designed by George Gilbert Scott, built in 1858, and demolished in 1954 – though it is still possible to see the outline in the grass.

The walls can be seen as 'crop marks' in the grass in this photo: the apse is at the far end.

The walls can be seen as ‘crop marks’ in the grass in this photo: the apse is at the far end.

(William Whewell, Master of Trinity, made generous donations for its construction, after the lodge at the entrance became too small to cope for the numbers of mourners gathered for the funeral services.)

The mortuary chapel.

The mortuary chapel.

The Cemetery Lodge, now a private house.

The Cemetery Lodge, now a private house.

The landscaping was designed by Andrew Murray, then Curator of the University Botanic Garden (just two years after its move to Trumpington Road in 1846), and he donated some plants from the Garden. (Do any survive?) The layout is reminiscent of the features John Claudius Loudon thought desirable in a graveyard, including a central memorial chapel and curving, rather than straight, paths radiating from it. (Loudon himself had landscaped Cambridge’s Histon Road Cemetery of 1843.)

When I first lived in Cambridge, the cemetery was definitely a place to be avoided: broken glass, syringes, plastic bags of glue, collapsed or vandalised gravestones, many completely engulfed by brambles, and dog dirt everywhere. Since then, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, supported by the City Council (and in spite of occasional further outbreaks of vandalism and ongoing dog dirt issues), it has become a pleasant wilderness and wildlife haven, full of interest for the social historian.

Back to the question of why Lucy Edgeworth, why here? I wrote some time ago about Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) and his daughter Maria (1768–1849), in the context of their two jointly written works on the education of children.

Maria Edgeworth, by John Downman (1807).

Maria Edgeworth, by John Downman (1807).

Maria (known to the Victorian reading public as ‘Miss Edgeworth’) was the most famous of the thirteen of his children who survived into adulthood; her youngest half-brother Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812–81) became a botanist in India.

Edgeworthstown House, the family home.

Edgeworthstown House, the family home, in County Longford.

Not much seems to be known about Lucy: she is described as ‘an invalid’, but it is noticeable that she survived all her siblings by quite a margin. One thinks of Aunt Etty (Henrietta Litchfield, née Darwin), who having been given her breakfast in bed once during a childhood illness, never got up for breakfast again in her life, according to her niece Gwen Raverat; or, indeed, of Aunt Ada Doom, who having seen something nasty in the woodshed very many years ago, ‘sat here ruling the roost and having five meals a day brought up … as regularly as clockwork’.

This is probably very unkind to Lucy, who, at the age of 38, married (John) Thomas Romney Robinson (1792–1882), a widower with three children.

Thomas Romney Robinson.

Thomas Romney Robinson.

His artist father, from Windermere, had trained with George Romney (hence his son’s name), but moved to Dublin in 1790, and thence to Belfast in 1801. A prodigious mathematician (and a poet), Thomas entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of 12, and became fellow in 1814. He was ordained, and given the living of Enniskillen, but in 1823 was appointed astronomer at Armagh observatory, a post he held with great distinction until his death in 1882, when he was succeeded by John Louis Emil Dreyer. (He was also a friend and supporter of the earl of Rosse and his monster telescopes.)

Meanwhile, Lucy’s stepdaughter, Mary Susannah, had met (at a meeting of the British Association, where else?) another most eminent Irish scientist, George Gabriel Stokes, Lucasian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, and a fellow (and later Master) of Pembroke College.

Sir George Gabriel Stokes.

Sir George Gabriel Stokes.

They were married in July 1857, and in 1891 (according to the census) were living at ‘Lensfield Cottage’ on Union Road, with a cook, housemaid and parlourmaid, and Mrs Stokes’s widowed stepmother, Lucy Jane Robinson, who, it seems safe to conclude, had gone to live with her stepdaughter after her husband’s death.

The 1891 census entry for the Stokes household.

The 1891 census entry for the Stokes household.

Lensfield Cottage was one of several houses built between Union Road and Lensfield Road in the nineteenth century; another was Lensfield House, designed in 1811 by the architecture William Wilkins (creator of Downing College, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, the National Gallery, and University College, London, inter alia) as his own home. The latter was demolished in 1954 to make way for the chemistry laboratories, while Lensfield Cottage had already gone by the 1930s, and the Scott Polar Research Institute (1934) now stands on its site.

Stokes and his family worshipped at St Paul’s, where he served as a churchwarden, and where a memorial brass and window commemorate him.

The memorial brass to Stokes in St Paul's church.

The memorial brass to Stokes in St Paul’s church.

He was buried close to his stepmother-in-law in Mill Road. On his left are the graves of his daughter Susanna Elizabeth (one of two daughters who died in infancy), and his son William, who became a doctor but died in 1893, aged only thirty; on his right the cracked gravestone of his wife, who had died in 1899. His own grave is unmarked.

The grave of the Stokes' infant daughter and their son

The grave of the Stokes’ infant daughter Susanna Elizabeth, and their son William.

The grave of Mary Susanna Stokes, née Robinson.

The grave of Mary Susanna Stokes, née Robinson.

So Lucy Edgeworth, born in Ireland in Trafalgar year, and having lived for almost the entire nineteenth century, experiencing all its extraordinary social and technological changes, was buried in Cambridge, in a not quite unvisited tomb.




This entry was posted in Archaeology, Cambridge, History, Literature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sister of the More Famous Maria

  1. Pingback: Professor Hedgehog Does Retail! | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

  2. John McGerr says:

    As someone involved in promoting the heritage and history of our town of Edgeworthstown, I fund your article on Lucy Edgeworth quite interesting. You can find our website at It’s always bnice to come across something new about this family.


  3. Pingback: Sister of the More Famous Tycho | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.