Curator's Choice: Bowood House

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The Independent Culture
I have chosen the diary of the wife of Lord Shelburne, later first Marquess of Lansdowne who became prime minister in 1782. She married him at 19 and she wrote a diary from her wedding day until she died in 1771, aged 25.

She is not gossipy and it is not a diary where you get thrilling stories about important people, but that's what is so nice about it. She mentions her husband going to see Mr Pitt and other political occasions but only in passing - she is much more interested in family life. She only gets emotional when either she or her two children are ill or when a family member dies. Otherwise she is rather formal, even referring to her eldest son as Lord Fitzmaurice.

The diary was something that she and her friends used to look at when they were together. They would go over it and talk about things in the way we would show photographs. She was conscious that it was a record but at times she couldn't help putting in lots more about something that interested her. She describes every detail of the children's lives, even their inoculation against smallpox and visits to toyshops.

In transcribing the diary for the first time I felt particularly close to her; her personality remains vividly in the mind. It is a fascinating source of information about the family life of a leading 18th-century statesman and has brought to life the people who lived at Bowood at that time in a way that nothing else could have done.

Kate Fielden is the curator of Bowood House. The exhibition 'Most Dutiful and Affectionate Sons' runs to 31 Oct, 11-6pm daily

(Photograph omitted)

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