THE WIDOW OF EDEN LODGE
Leigh has many literary connections - John Fowles and John Betjeman to name but two, but there is another connection to one of this country’s greatest writers, William Makepeace Thackeray, the writer of Vanity Fair.
For over 23 years Thackeray’s widow, Isabella, lived at Eden Lodge which once stood at the bottom of the now Leigh Park Road, and whose house and grounds stretched to Church Hill and up to meet Chess Lane which ran from the top of Church Hill westwards.
Thackeray met Isabella in Paris and they married in 1836. They moved to London and had three daughters. After her third daughter was born Isabella began to show signs of what we now would know as severe post natal depression.
Thackeray did not react well to Isabella's condition and spent more and more time working away.
When he realized there were serious problems he took Isabella to Ireland to see her mother in the hope of restoring her spirits but during the crossing Isabella tried to commit suicide by throwing herself into the sea and had to be rescued.
Isabella was placed in various care establishments until in 1845 it was felt she was incurable and was taken out of care in France and placed with a couple called Bakewell in Camberwell. Mrs Bakewell is described as a nurse and ‘excellent worthy woman’. Good that she was for she was to be Isabella’s constant companion for the rest of her long life.
Thackeray did visit Isabella on occasion but according to Mrs Bakewell these visits were infrequent and eventually stopped, although he continued to pay for her support.
Thackeray’s stature as an author grew over the years but Isabella was kept well out of site. Then suddenly on 23 December 1863 Thackeray died at the age of fifty-three. An estimated 7000 people attended his funeral at Kensington Gardens and he is buried in Kensal Green cemetery.
Isabella and the Bakewells were living in Prittlewell at the time and after Richard Bakewell’s death Isabella and Mrs Bakewell moved to Eden Lodge, the house of Henry Thompson and his wife, Elizabeth Joscelyne, where she lived in obscurity for the next 30 years.
On 10 January 1894 Isabella's daughter, Anne, was summoned by the Thompsons because Isabella was ill. Anne rushed to Leigh on a damp and freezing cold day to find her mother unconscious, but alive. She sat with her to the end and then returned to London. By the time she got back the newspaper hoardings were already carrying the news of ‘The death of Mrs Thackeray’. Sad to say there were very few people who knew she was actually still alive.