Wanstead Park is reputedly haunted by Catherine Tylney-Long (born 2 October 1789 – died 12 September 1825) who was once the richest woman in England (excluding Royalty) and lost everything due to her husband and his excessive lifestyle.
Catherine was the daughter of Lady Catherine Sydney Windsor and Sir James Tylney-Long, 7th Baronet of Draycot. Catherine’s brother James inherited the estate of their uncle John, 2nd Earl Tylney as he had no heir of his own, but James died in 1805 aged 11 years and Catherine became the beneficiary.
The inheritance amounted to £300, 000, the estate of Wanstead and a yearly income of £25,000 (though one source put this at £80,000 after paying annual allowances for her mother and other family members) which she acquired in 1809 when she legally became and adult. One American diplomat valued her estate at £1,000,000. “Lady Catherine Tylney Long commenced her career in the fashionable world on Monday night in Grosvenor Square with a splendid ball. Her Ladyship possesses an immense fortune” is how a London newspaper described her when she came of age.
Understandably she had many suitors seeking her hand in marriage including the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV), but she fell in love with William Pole-Wellesley, (born 22 June 1788 – died 1 July 1857) 4th Earl of Mornington and nephew of the Duke of Wellington. They married on 14th March 1812, in St James’s Church, Piccadilly and William took the name Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, which was a condition of the marriage. Catherine was dressed in a satin dress and a robe of Brussels lace valued at 700 guineas. Her Brussels lace bonnet and veil were valued at a combined 350 guineas and her necklace 25,000 guineas. According to the newspapers at the time, William forgot the ring and had to go and purchase one from a nearby shop, hardly what you would expect, but then, by all accounts he was bringing nothing into the marriage but debts and was actually penniless.
Catherine and William had three children, William Richard Arthur Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, 5th Earl of Mornington (born 7 October 1813 – died. 25 July 1863), Hon. James FitzRoy Henry William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (born 11 August 1815 – died 30 October 1851) and Lady Victoria Catherine Mary Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (born 1819 – died. 29 Mar 1897)
Even though she was the richest woman in the England, William’s extravagant lifestyle including lavish parties at Wanstead House (without inviting his wife) broke her. With a debt exceeding £250,000, a thirty two day auction was held in June 1822 selling off the furniture, fixtures and fittings of Wanstead House in order to appease his creditors. Some of the furniture was bought by the11th Earl of Pembroke to refurbish Wilton House. No buyer could be found for Wanstead itself and as a consequence one of the greatest houses in Britain had to be demolished by 1823 to pay his debts. The house had cost £360,000 to build and after demolition it brought them just £10,000.
To avoid his creditors, William and the family fled to Italy, where he had an affair with Helena Paterson Bligh, the wife of a Captain in the Coldstream Guards and he abandoned Catherine. Catherine, returned to England with her children which were eventually made wards of chancery.
By 1825 they stayed for a while at 41Clarges Street, but Catherine’s health was deteriorating and eventually they stayed with one of her sisters in the Paragon, Richmond on Wednesday, the 7th of September 1825. It is often stated in accounts of her ghost that Catherine committed suicide, but in fact she became seriously ill and in one letter to her sisters implied that William had given her a venereal disease. That evening she started having stomach spasms and fearful for her children’s future, she immediately changed her Will and she had it witnessed. Her previous one which she made in 1815 was favourable to William. She died suddenly on Monday, 12th September 1825 at 11.00 am.
One newspaper reported “death of this lamented lady excites a great degree of interest in the fashionable world.” Another wrote “To her no luxury could be a novelty, no society an elevation; for her halls had sheltered the Princes of other lands in adversity, and feasted those of her own country in prosperity. She stood, therefore, in the world an enviable and an envied woman.”
Sir George Dallas, wrote the following beautiful words about Catherine and I found them in “The Lady Victoria Tylney Long Wellesley : a memoir”: Sacred to the Memory of The Honourable Mrs. Long Wellesley, who, confessing the redeeming merits of an atoning Saviour, sustained by faith and hope, and dying of a broken heart, departed this life, after a short illness of only three days, on the 12th of September, 1825, in the thirty-fifth year of her age.
An all-gracious Providence, rewarding the piety and purity of her life, and commiserating the misfortunes which so sadly closed it, mercifully removed her from this tearful vale, to enjoy in a brighter sphere that happiness of which she had been deprived in this world, and which she had uniformly endeavoured to deserve by a constant exercise of the most exemplary virtues. Few of her sex ever commenced life with more brilliant prospects, or closed it under a darker cloud.
Nature endowed her with mental and personal attractions, which in themselves would have given lustre to minor possessions, but thus doubly enriched, she became an early object of pursuit and general admiration. Her hand was sought by the proudest and richest peers of the land. In her was centred every quality that could bless and render man happy, a temper mild and serene, a mind calm and sensible, manners polished and graceful, affections devoted and constant, a breast wherein the virtues seemed to have fixed their abode, and a heart overflowing with the kindest sympathies of human nature. In the relative duties of daughter, sister, wife and mother, she exhibited a bright example of whatever could dignify her sex and exalt it to general admiration. The shafts of envy never reached her. The voice of slander never assailed her. In an age of dissipation she shunned its follies, and sought, in the shade of domestic retirement, to rear her children to the virtues she practised. Those who knew her can attest the wakeful fondness with which she watched over their rising innocence, and endeavoured to shape it with the safeguard of those religious principles which, early impressed, become the steps to temporal and eternal happiness. Her last sigh was for them, and the names of William, James and Victoria, hung lingering on her quivering lips as the faint and protracted echoes of her last thoughts.
She was buried at the family estate in Draycot, Wiltshire described in the following funeral notice: ’On Monday morning last, at the hour of nine o’clock, the remains of this unfortunate lady left Richmond for the family mansion at Draycot, and arrived there on Thursday. The procession consisted of the hearse in which the coffin was borne, drawn by six horses, and three mourning coaches drawn by four horses each. The chief mourners were the two Misses Long, Lord Maryborough, the Duke of Wellington and some other relations. Within half a mile of Draycot the funeral procession was joined by thirty-two of the tenants in black cloaks and on horseback. All the inhabitants of the village appeared in mourning. The Church was hung in black, and on the front of the pulpit were the family arms.’
William, who wasted his wife’s fortune and had Wanstead House demolished to cover just a small portion of his debt before abandoning his family, actually did marry his mistress Helena Bligh in 1828 and this was another financial disaster.
I have no words that can politely describe William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley and it is hard to fully appreciate what he put his wife and family through, especially since he remained a burden to his children and a thorn in their side. Following Catherine’s death there was a custody battle and her sisters sought to have the children placed under the guardianship of the Duke of Wellington. The eldest boy William Richard Arthur Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (future 5th Earl of Mornington) inherited the Wanstead Esate (minus the house of course), the Draycot Estate, Athelhampton and Tylney Hall. His father stole and sold furniture from Draycot House to cover another of his debts and William Jnr took him to court.
Nothing now remains of Wanstead House as it was demolished and sold off for its component pieces. The ghost of Catherine is said to wander Wanstead Park, where the great house once stood, devastated with the manner in which her cheating husband had treated her.
It is also said that a phantom carriage carrying Queen Elizabeth I crosses the park, recreating the trip she would take visiting Robert Dudley 1st Earl of Leicester.