Harriot Mellon – blue plaque unveiling, Friday 12th August 2016

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Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission were proud to be part of this wonderful event.

As reported in the Brighton Argus:

A BLUE plaque in memory of Regency society beauty Harriot Mellon, who married a man old enough to be her grandfather and another young enough to be her son, was unveiled in Brighton yesterday by her descendant, the Duke of St Albans.

In a speech watched by civic dignitaries, the 14th Duke of St Albans caused laughter when he declared Harriot his “favourite duchess” – with the obvious exception of his wife, the Duchess of St Albans, who was standing next to him.

He then unveiled the plaque on the wall of The Regency restaurant on the corner of Regency Square and the King’s Road. It reads: Actress Harriot Mellon Duchess of St Albans and Brighton socialite stayed here 1830-37.
He said: “I’m honoured to have this plaque in her memory. She was a remarkable woman who deserves to be remembered with admiration.

“She was my favourite duchess because she was such a character – in fact, she would have been considered quite vulgar by some people.

“She felt more at home in Brighton – Brighton people took to her more than other places. She was such a generous character and that is always a special quality. That is what I liked about her.”

In a welcome speech at the ceremony, Councillor Mo Marsh, the city’s deputy mayor, said: “The plaque is to remember a particular individual who added so much life to her adopted home.

“She was a woman who made her mark by taking the opportunities she had, and Brighton and Hove has reason to be grateful to this strong woman.”

Roger Amerena, of the Brighton and Hove Commemorative Plaque Panel, told the audience that the plaque replaces an old Brighton Corporation one that had become difficult to read. Emilio and Rovertos Savvides, the owners of The Regency restaurant, funded the plaque.

Also at the ceremony were members of the Brighton and Hove Commemorative Plaque Panel, Hugh Macpherson of the Royal Stuart Society, past mayors of Brighton and Hove including Lynda Hyde, Brian Fitch and Francis Tonks, and representatives from The Friends of Regency Square, Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission and Regency Square Area Society.

 Photos of event at The News Co here and at Brighton Bits here

HARRIOT’S INCREDIBLE LIFE

BEAUTIFUL and vivacious, flamboyant and compassionate, the life of Harriot Mellon was extraordinary even for Regency times.

Born in 1777 as the illegitimate daughter of strolling players – travelling theatre groups then considered to be in the lowest depths of society – she followed her parents into acting, making her debut at the age of 10.

She was talent-spotted by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who was “impressed by her rosy-cheeked good looks and acting ability”, and he secured her a season at the Drury Lane Theatre in London.

She was successful, known for her comic abilities and was understudy to great actresses of the time including Dorothea Jordan and Sarah Siddons, often praised for her professionalism and good humour.

Her best known role was as Volante in The Honey Moon in 1805, the year before a portrait of her was painted by the painter Charles Turner was published. She was also painted by Sir William Beechey in 1815.

It was during her career on stage that she caught the eye of Thomas Coutts, who had founded the bank Coutts and Co, now famously patronised by the royal family.

He was married to Elizabeth Starkey, with whom he and had three daughters but Harriot became his mistress and when his wife died in 1815, they were married – when he was 80 and she was 35.

Their marriage was held in secret to avoid the wrath of his daughters and when he finally told them, they were furious. During their marriage he had to protect her from his daughters’ anger – yet the couple were happily married until he died in 1822.

Thomas left her his entire estate, including his 50 per cent stake in Coutts and Co, making her the richest woman in Europe with a fortune of millions of pounds.

She ran the bank and promoted Thomas’ confidential clerk Andrew Dickie to partner, while trying to placate Thomas’s three daughters by giving them an allowance of £10,000 each a year. Sadly, it did not warm them to her.

During her widowhood, she held parties at her houses in Piccadilly and Highgate and spent time at her house in Regency Square in Brighton.

In 1827, she scandalised society by marrying William Beauclerk, the 9th Duke of St Albans, who was 23 years her junior and “something of a fool and a booby”, according to the book Lady Unknown by Edna Healey. He wooed Harriot for two years – he wanted her money and she wanted his title.

Her “old and true friend” Sir Walter Scott wrote to congratulate her on her marriage and she replied: “What a strange, eventful life has mine been, from a poor little player child, with just food and clothes to cover me, dependent on a very precarious profession, without talent or a friend in the world – first the wife of the best, the most perfect being that ever breathed and now the wife of a duke. You must write my life my true history written by the author of Waverley.”

However, as a result of the marriage, she became the subject of cartoon caricature in “a series of attacks which were carried on for years with a malicious persistence difficult to parallel”, according to her biographer Charles Pearce.

She was depicted as a “stout female of bulging endowments” like melons, and also with moustache and whiskers.

During her marriage, Harriot began to develop a close friendship with Angela Burdett, the youngest of Thomas’s grandchildren, inviting her to balls and dinners at her Brighton house and hawking parties on the Downs.

She saw how Harriot gave gifts to the starving people of Ireland and she travelled with her, Harriot like a princess with coaches and wagons, couriers and servants and always a casket of love letters from her first husband Thomas.

Her health began to break down in 1836 and she died a year later in London, leaving her husband an allowance of £10,000 a year.

during his lifetime and the use of her two properties in London.

The bulk of her estate, worth around £1.8 million, went to Angela, who was required to change her surname to Burdett-Coutts but was excluded from partnership in the bank. With the money, Angela became one of the greatest philanthropists of the Victorian age.

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