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GREAT BARR MEMORIAL TO A TRAGIC PRINCESS

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: June 07, 2007

GREAT BARR MEMORIAL TO A TRAGIC PRINCESS

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The photograph at the top of this page shows a crumbling memorial to a forgotten British princess. It stands in a local park but this aged obelisk is not entirely without friends and we have received an appeal for information on this monument from Bill Gunn, Vice Chair of the Friends of Red House Park, who are seeking funding to have this monument restored. Bill writes:

"I am writing to you on behalf of the Friends of Red House Park in Great Barr. In the park we have a monument and we believe it was erected in the 1800s in memory of Princess Charlotte, the only daughter of the Prince Regent, who died in childbirth in 1817. An ordnance survey map of 1890 lists the monument as being in memory of Princess Charlotte. There was a plaque on the monument but it was lost in the 1930s when the Red House was used as a sanatorium for Birmingham children. The plaque is believed to have been a Latin inscription and we believe that the monument is one of only two in the country to Princess Charlotte.

"If anyone remembers the monument or the plaque we would like them to come forward as we need all the information we can get. The monument is in need of repair and to get funding we require this information."

Red House Park stands near Junction 7 of the M6 and is the former home of several Black Country industrialists. The Red House estate was an old one, with parts dating to the 16th century and in 1834 the Staffordshire historian William White described the Red House as "a neat Gothic seat belonging to Robert Scott, Esq., but occupied by J. V. Barber, Esq."

Robert Wellbeloved Scott (he took his wife's name on marriage) was a Stourbridge businessman and the Liberal MP for Walsall from 1841 to 1847. He built the present Red House in 1841. Scott died in 1856 and the next occupant of the house was Robert Bagnall of the Golds Hill iron works, one of the well known family of Black Country ironmasters. Following Bagnall's death another ironmaster took on the Red House, John Marshall of the Wednesbury Patent Shaft and Axle Tree Company. In the 1880s Marshall's widow Charlotte lived at the house but after she died the house passed to a Mr Shenton, another ironmaster, and in 1892 the house was briefly occupied by Sir Henry Meysey Thompson.

In 1902 the Red House became a convalescent home for children run by the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund, which took the house on a 21-year lease. When the lease expired the house and grounds were acquired by West Bromwich Corporation, which planned to use them as a sanatorium, but the house was judged unfit for the purpose and so it remained empty until 1929. That year West Bromwich Corporation opened the 27-acre estate as a public park and the house was turned into refreshment rooms. In 1940 the house was taken over by the army and used by them until the late 1950s when a territorial battalion, the South Staffordshire Light Artillery were based there. In 1966 the house returned to West Bromwich Corporation and today it is owned by Sandwell MBC and leased to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

As yet we have no date for when Princess Charlotte's memorial was built in the grounds of the Red House but, presumably, it would not have been long after her death in 1817. While largely unremembered today Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales has an important part in British royal history. Had she lived more than her mere 21 years it is possible that there would have been no Victorian era as it was her death that directly led to Queen Victoria ascending the throne.

Princess Charlotte was born on 7th January, 1796, at Carlton House in London. She was the only child of George IV, then Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbttel. Her parents' marriage was a notoriously difficult one and her father would later claim that he had sex with his wife no more than three times, so Princess Charlotte's birth was extremely lucky. Her parents parted soon after Charlotte's birth and she was only allowed to see her mother occasion- ally.

As a child Charlotte was said to be devoted to her grandfather, George III, but she grew up to be a difficult and headstrong teenager, rather like her mother, and she had a stormy relationship with her father, who for many years refused to accept her as his heir, because of his poisonous relationship with Charlotte's mother.

In 1813 Princess Charlotte was betrothed to Prince Willem of Orange, heir to the throne of Holland, but the following year Charlotte broke off the engagement after her fianc had publicly disgraced himself by his drunken antics at Ascot races. Princess Charlotte then hoped to marry Crown Prince Augustus of Prussia but her father, now Prince Regent following the mental illness of George III, was opposed to the match and so Charlotte was confined at Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor Great Park, from 1814 to 1816.

During this time another suitor came on the scene, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who successfully petitioned the Prince Regent and Parliament for Charlotte's hand in marriage. The couple were married on 2nd May, 1816, and Prince Leopold was granted £50,000 a year for life by Parliament.

Charlotte and Leopold's marriage was a happy and successful one, however in the early months Charlotte suffered two miscarriages. She became pregnant for a third time in February 1817 and Charlotte was given the best possible medical care. The leading obstetrician of the day, Sir Richard Croft, was appointed to her and he followed the most up to date medical practice by restricting her diet and subjecting Charlotte to a course of regular bleeding. On 3rd November Charlotte went into a labour that lasted 50 hours. The baby was in a transverse position but Croft did not use forceps, as they were not in favour at the time, and a caesarean section would have meant the death of Charlotte. Eventually Charlotte gave birth to a still-born, 9-pound son.

At first Charlotte appeared to be in good health following the traumatic birth but her condition worsened and five hours later she died, on 6th November, 1817; it is thought she suffered concealed internal bleeding following the birth. She was buried with her child in St George's Chapel, Windsor. Following her death Leopold remarried and in 1831 he became King of the Belgians.

Charlotte's death was mourned nationally. Young Charlotte had grown to be a popular member of the royal family and her death promoted a level of national grief akin to that following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Sir Richard Croft was particularly affected by the death of his patient. Both Prince Leopold and the Prince Regent wrote to thank him for his care and attention but three months after Charlotte's death Croft shot himself. His body was found with a copy of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, open at the passage, "Fair Sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?" (Act V, Sc. II)

The death of Princess Charlotte had grave implications for the monarchy. George III now had 12 surviving children but no legitimate grandchildren and it seemed that the house of Hanover would soon pass away. Charlotte's death led to a scramble to produce an heir, and as both the Prince Regent and Frederick, Duke of York were childless and estranged from their respective wives so unlikely to produce any more heirs, it fell to their younger brothers to go to Germany and marry any available Protestant princesses in the hope of continuing the next generation of legitimate royals. On 13th July, 1818, 52-year-old Duke of Clarence, later William IV, married the 25-year-old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. William had 10 illegitimate children by his mistress, the actress Mrs Jordan, but his marriage to Adelaide produced only two daughters, neither of whom lived more than a few months.

It was Edward, Duke of Kent who eventually produced an heir. In 1818 he had married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (sister of Leopold) and on 24th May, 1819, she gave birth to a daughter, Princess Victoria. When William IV died in 1837 the young princess ascended the throne as Queen Victoria.

Hopefully the Friends of Red House Park will be able to raise the funds necessary to restore this rare monument to an unfortunate princess. Vital to the restoration is the memorial plaque that was once on the base of the monument. If anyone has any recollection of this monument in its better days or if they have the original wording of the plaque please contact the Bugle and we will pass on any useful information to the Friends.

You can find out more about Red House Park, Great Barr, and the work of the Friends groups by logging on to the website at www.redhousepark.org.uk

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