Newark: Lady Ossington by Rachel Sheldrake is part of a series commissioned by The Acorns Project
This article, written by RACHEL SHELDRAKE, is one in a series commissioned by The Acorns Project.
Supported by Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund, The Acorns Project seeks to improve access to culture across Newark and Sherwood.
These articles form part of Voices Of Newark And Sherwood strand of the project and have been written by local writers to tell the stories of notable figures.
To find out more about the Voices Of Newark And Sherwood and The Acorns Project, go to facebook.com/theacornsproject
On the wall of the National Civil War Centre, there hangs a majestic painting, a portrait of Lady Ossington. Depicting a beautiful and clearly wealthy, woman, behind the brush strokes lies a tale of love, charity, and strongly held beliefs.
So who was Lady Ossington, and why do some believe her picture is haunted?
Born into a rich and noble family in 1806, Lady Charlotte Cavendish-Bentinck had blood from England, Scotland and Holland flowing through her veins.
With such a privileged background came an idyllic and happy childhood and, at 20, Lady Charlotte fell in love.
John Evelyn Denison was from a family of wool merchants and untitled, which displeased her father, who considered him too common.
But, after months of persuasion — and the potential embarrassment of his daughter eloping — he changed his mind and in 1827 Lady Charlotte and John Denison were married in All Souls Church, Marylebone, London. There were lavish, week-long, celebrations at Ossington Hall, John’s beloved ancestral home.
John became a most successful man in his own right, especially in politics, becoming an MP and eventually Speaker of the House of Commons.
Having no children, the couple enjoyed an aristocratic lifestyle, and were rich and influential in high society.
Lady Ossington came to love her namesake hall and its surrounds, and they spent much happy time there.
Following John’s death in 1873, his widow chose not to wallow in mourning, but instead to devote herself to helping improve the lives of the less fortunate.
At that time, the ‘demon drink’ was causing problems across the land, and establishing an alcohol-free tavern where travellers, farmers and working-class people could meet without temptation became her goal.
In a town that brewed beer, this would be a challenge, but Lady Ossington was keen to invest in, and bring prosperity to, Newark.
In 1882, paid entirely from her personal wealth, the Ossington Coffee Tavern opened on Beastmarket Hill. Operating as a charity, it was a fitting tribute to John.
Lady Ossington died in 1889 and her wealth inherited by her sister.
The Ossington Coffee Tavern remained. On a wall inside hung a portrait of its philanthropist founder. For many years, the portrait looked on as the coffee house provided shelter and refreshment to those who passed through its doors. When the tavern was sold and became a public house in the 1970s, however, something changed.
For the first time in its history, alcohol was on sale in the building and reports of the painting flying off the wall started to be heard. Was Lady Ossington’s spirit now showing her disapproval at the ‘demon drink’ being available in her beloved coffee house?
Were her good intentions so strong that she could not bear to see her work undone? With her portrait now hanging safely on the museum wall, the answer may never be known.