A new exhibition at Arley is bringing two historical characters to life. The new exhibition illustrates the romantic marriage of William Flower, 2nd Viscount Ashbrook, and fisherman’s daughter Betty Ridge, ancestors of Lord Ashbrook who is the current owner of Arley Hall and Gardens.
Portraits, a marriage certificate and a letter written by Betty more than 200 years ago are among the items on display.
The Betty Ridge Exhibition Includes
Prints, photographs, documents, and artefacts and will run for the next year.
Visitors can learn how Betty embarked on a new life in the alien world of the aristocracy after marrying William Flower, an Anglo-Irish viscount with a castle in Ireland.
Betty’s entrepreneurial father, Thomas, had opened an alehouse at the family home by the river Thames – a fateful move that led to his daughter meeting her future husband.
Aristocratic revellers were not unusual at the inn, which was close to Oxford University. What made William Flower different was that he fell madly in love with the innkeeper’s daughter – and he stuck to his promise to marry her in the face of Flower family opposition.
“Once married, the couple showed little interest in mixing in society,” said Julie Ann. “Then catastrophe struck when Betty was widowed at just 35 with six children under 15-years-old.
The challenges this new situation presented required her to deploy all the characteristic Ridge-family dynamism and adaptability for the sake of her children.”
Lord Ashbrook added about the exhibition: “Betty Ridge may have been born the daughter of a simple fisherman, but she was clearly a remarkable girl. I am proud to have her as my four times great-grandmother, and very pleased that we can celebrate the 250th anniversary of her marriage to my predecessor William Flower, 2nd Viscount, with this charming little exhibition.”
Historian Julie Ann Godson, whose book ‘The Water Gypsy: how a Thames fishergirl became a viscountess’ tells the couple’s story in full for the first time and is available to buy in the Arley gift shop, has collated the exhibition along with Annika Flower, daughter-in-law of Lord Ashbrook.
Entry to the exhibition which is located on the Stable Yard is included in normal entry prices.