Culling Memorials at Epsom

Portrait of William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper (ca.1665-1723)
Portrait of William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper (ca.1665-1723)
By Thomas Murray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Details of the life of William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper ( c.?1665 - 10 October 1723), first Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, may be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and elsewhere

Briefly, William Cowper was the eldest son of Sir William Cowper, a Whig politician who represented Hertford for two terms before his death in 1706. He entered the Middle Temple on the 8th of March 1681/2 and was called to the bar during the spring of 1688. Cowper soon gained a considerable practice, but his success at the bar was eclipsed by that in Parliament. He was appointed King's Council in 1698, returned to Parliament two years later as junior member for Beralston in Devon, and was made Lord Keeper on 11th October 1705. Cowper was raised to the peerage under the title of Baron Cowper of Wingham (Kent) on 9th November 1706, and was declared Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain by the Queen the following year.

An agreement related to his marriage with Judith, daughter of Sir Robert Booth, is dated to 1686. Youthful romance soured and within 10 years William Cowper had taken as his mistress Elizabeth Culling, or Cullen, daughter of John Culling of Hertingfordbury Park: this adulterous liaison was alleged also to have involved a sham marriage, or to have been bigamous, but rumours* of polygamy are unsubstantiated. A ménage àtrois appears to have developed whilst illegitimate children, William Culling, born on 14 November, 1697, and Mary Culling, born on 10 September 1700, were acknowledged as 'natural' offspring by parties to the relationship.

Elizabeth Culling's brother, John, who had inherited Hertingfordbury Park as a minor, died in January 1702/3 without issue, leaving Elizabeth the family estate.

On the south-east side of Hertingfordbury Churchyard is an altar tomb, enclosed within iron railings. The inscription thereon reads :-
E.C. Obiit ye 27th of November 1703 - Miss Elizabeth Culling of Hertingfordbury Park.
Judith Cowper died on 2 April 1705.

A second marriage for William Cowper followed, in 1706, to Mary daughter of John Clavering, of Chopwell, Durham. The Lord keeper of the great seal, had initiated a clandestine courtship, having met Mary when she consulted him on a legal matter three years previously. Twenty years her senior, William couched his proposal letter in rational terms: 'I have chosen this plain narrative how I came not so much to be madly in love as to love a settled opinion I think from cool reason and judgement'. Mary and William were secretly married on 18 September 1706: he was made Baron Cowper in October 1706 but the marriage was not publicly acknowledged until February 1707.

Following the death of her mother, Elizabeth Culling, it would seem Mary Culling, the natural daughter, became beneficially entitled to Hertingfordbury Park and other family estates, apparently encumbered with debt.

Her brother, William Culling, fathered a son out of wedlock about 1717. He died in Paris on 31 October 1719 and provided in his Will, proved 4 November 1719, for his own natural son William (junior), then 'at nurse in Shoreham'.

Mary Culling married Robert Isaacson in a clandestine (possibly an irregular 'Fleet') ceremony about 1720 for the couple to assume responsibility her orphaned nephew, William Culling, junior.

Lord Cowper, despite his disapproval of her choice of husband, provided a trust fund of 2,000 for his daughter Mary in his 1723 Will. The Isaacsons sold Hertingfordbury Park to Spencer Cowper before 1727.

A letter from Mary Granville Pendarves Delany ('Mrs Delany', 1700-1788, artist and noted correspondent) to her mother, Mrs. Granville, dated 15 March, 1734/5 contained a reference to Robert & Mary Isaacson and their nephew William Culling: -
'Yesterday my cousin Isaacson, his wife, and young Cullen dined here.... their eldest girl [Arabella born 27 July 1735, baptised St John, Smith Square, Westminster] has just recovered from the small pox'.
William Culling, natural son of 1st Earl Cowper's illegitimate son, William Culling, wrote on 26 February 1739/40 to 2nd Earl Cowper [William Clavering Cowper] asking him to obtain Lord De La Warr's permission for the sale of his commission in the army, as he is now destitute owing to his aunt's and uncle's misappropriation of his fortune. In turn Mary Isaacson, natural daughter of Lord Chancellor Cowper and Elizabeth Culling replied from Sawbridgeworth, 17 October 1739, to express resentment at the ungrateful behaviour of her nephew William Culling after she had cared for him for twenty years.

William Culling's interest in money may have been related to his intention to marry Elizabeth Carleton, an event which took place at Westminster on 18 September 1739. Their daughter Sarah Culling came to be baptised at St Martin in the fields, 12 July 1741. Lord De La Warr was Colonel of the First Troop of Horse Guards and at the time of the correspondence mentioned above the young William Culling would have been a Sub-brigadier [2nd Lieutenant]. By 21 July 1744 he had risen to the rank of Brigadier [Lieutenant] before becoming an Exempt [Captain], 5 June 1758.

On retirement from the Army before 1770, the Cullings took up residence in Epsom: William died on 1 July 1773, to be interred in St Martin's churchyard, 10 July 1773.

The Culling Tomb in St Martin's churchyard
The Culling Tomb in St Martin's churchyard

This Tomb is on the middle of the Vault which is ten feet wide x eight feet long in the inside.
South Side
'In the Vault Beneath this Tomb are interr'd the remains of WILLIAM CULLING ESQR. who departed this Life July the 1st 1773 - Aged 56. He was the most tender and affectionate Husband, Father and Friend.
Also SARAH CULLING his Daughter who departed this Life July 6th 1789 - Aged 46.
Also ELIZTH CULLING Wife of the above named WILLIAM CULLING and Mother of the above named SARAH CULLING who Died June 30th 1790.

North Side
The Tomb which contained the (fore)going several inscriptions having become much injured by time are so decayed as to be incapable of repair was in pursuance of the Directions of MRS. CULLING'S Will taken away in 1802, and this new one erected in its stead by the Minister and Churchwardens then in office at the Expense of the Fund left for that purpose by the said Will'.
Tablet in St Martin's
'MRS. ELIZABETH CULLING, Widow of WILLIAM CULLING Esq, who died in London on 30th day of June, 1790 bequeathed upon trust to the / minister and Churchwardens of this Parish / three per cent reduced bank annuities for the purposes and effects following / that is to say / that they the said minister and churchwardens shall apply the / interest of one hundred and fifty pounds a part of the said annuities the / same shall become due in painting, repairing, and keeping clean the vault in this / churchyard in which the said William Culling Esq. and Elizabeth his late widow / are buried - that is - the iron rails, round the said vault, are to be painted twice / over in oil every two years at Michaelmas, for which the painter, who if there is one / resident, is to be of this parish, shall be paid for every such painting the sum of two / guineas. The inscription on the stonework of the said vault, is to be kept legible and for keeping the said stonework constantly clean from weeds and dirt, the sexton / of this parish is to be paid the annual sum of ten shillings and six pence. And these intentions being properly provided for and complied with, then such / surplus as may remain, from the interests of the said sum of one hundred and fifty / pounds is to be applied to the relief of proper objects of this parish, in cloathing / and bread which bread, as the vault is a faculty vault, it is requested may be termed faculty bread. It is also directed by the last will and testament of the said Mrs. Elizabeth Culling / that the fifty pounds residue of the above two hundred pounds, shall be permitted / to accumulate for the extraordinary and accidental repairs of the said vault. As in / process of time the top of the vault may fall in, it is particularly specified that none / of the earth shall be removed, nor any of the Pavement taken up; but that the surface / of the vault shall be made even by putting on chalk or other materials proper for / that purpose, and paved anew with stones fastened by good iron cramps and protected by new iron railings. And these intentions being fully answered and complied with / the minister and churchwardens shall from time to time when the said fifty pounds and / the accumulations of interest thereon, amount to one hundred pounds stock, sell out / twenty pounds of the said stock, which shall be applied in the putting of poor / children apprentices, or in such other charitable uses as shall to them seem most proper. And in recompense of the trouble which may arise in carrying these intentions / into effect, the said Mrs. Elizabeth Culling bequeathed to the minister of this parish / for the time being the interest of one hundred pounds stock for ever and to the churchwardens / for the time being the like sum. Provided always, that they the said minister and church / wardens, shall fulfill the wishes and requests of the said Mrs. Elizabeth Culling, respecting her / said vault; and if they shall at any time fail herein, then the said interest shall not be / payable to nor received by, such minister or churchwardens, but by such of their / successors as shall faithfully apply the interest of the said sum of two hundred pounds / beforementioned, according to the true intent of her will. This Stone is erected this twenty ninth day of September, 1790, by the executors of / the above named testatrix, according to the express tenor and directions of her will / and is to be retained legible from the interest and accumulation of the above / mentioned fifty pounds for ever.

The Reverend John Jefferson Execr. David Mac Culloch, Esq

The Will of Elizabeth Culling, Widow of Strand, Middlesex, proved 12/7/1790 [PROB 11/1194/8 ], was extremely long with detailed arrangements for her funeral and multiple legacies. She mentioned a house in Clarges St., Piccadilly, family rings with Carleton Arms, & a Mourning Ring for the late Countess Cowper - a coronet set in brilliants and jet. The Rt. Hon. Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, was a relation, which suggests that she was from the Anglo Irish 'Ascendancy'.

The Carleton Arms
The Carleton Arms

*According to Mrs Delarivier Manley, author of Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of both Sexes, From The New Atalantis, published at the start of the 18th century, Mrs 'Cullen' had been brought up in the same house as his wife, who had taught her chastity and devotion, and Cowper therefore thought it 'would be a sort of triumph over his wife, whom he hated', to seduce her. He persuaded her to agree to a false marriage, at which his brother Spencer Cowper allegedly presided, dressed as a priest.

Brian Bouchard © September 2016