Scandalous life of Lady Lumley - founder of the Pickering school and almshouses in Thornton Dale - revealed in new book by local historian John Smith

Thousands of pupils have graduated from Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering and from her earlier schools in Sinnington and Thornton Dale.

By Sue Wilkinson
Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 10:17 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 9:33 am
Historian and author John Smith with his book outside the almshouses in Thornton Dale which were founded by Lady Eliza Lumley
Historian and author John Smith with his book outside the almshouses in Thornton Dale which were founded by Lady Eliza Lumley

Similarly, hundreds of people have benefited from residence in her almshouses in Thornton Dale and London.

Yet who was this kindly benefactor? Her life has been shrouded in mystery for generations, but now a new book by Dr John Smith, traces the life and times of Lady Lumley and reveals a woman whose own troubled life did not hinder her in her love and care for those who shared her everyday life.

"What a life Lady Eliza Lumley had," said Dr Smith, who was a history teacher at Lady Lumley’s for 24 years before becoming senior lecturer in education at the University of Hull.

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" All the stories that you have ever heard about Elizabethan England seem to apply to her."

Eliza was born in London more than 400 years ago. She was the daughter of a rich nobleman, Sir William Cornwallis, and her mother was Lucie Latimer, who had been born and raised in Snape and Sinnington in North Yorkshire and inherited vast estates up here from her father.

Her family clung on to their Catholic faith under Queen Elizabeth even though it was dangerous to do so.

The Queen’s spies were in the household when she was a girl, reporting on the family.

But it was not all dour in London at that tim , and the family house was in the theatre area allowing the young Eliza to meet famous actors including Ben Jonson and perhaps Will Shakespeare.

She was friends with one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot. At home, her older sister was involved in a secret love affair with a servant which led to a family scandal.

Another sister shot and killed an amorous admirer and subsequently suffered bouts of guilt and madness.

A third sister converted her husband, the famed Archibald the Grim, to Catholicism and the two had to run off to Holland as traitors to King James.

Eliza was involved in the Great Civil War in England as her second husband, Viscount Lumley, was one of King Charles’ principal commanders.

They made Lumley Castle a royal stronghold. She retired to the safety of Sinnington, which she inherited from her mother.

She lived out her long life here, developing a strong affection for the village. She died at more than 80 years old, a considerable age at the time, and was buried, some say late at night to save money, in Westminster Abbey in a borrowed tomb belonging to her aunt and uncle.

No memorial to her was ever erected there, but she left her fortune for good work. She was childless and wanted a school set up for the children in the Sinnington area as well as almshouses for the old.

"These became the Lady Lumley’s School and the Lady Lumley’s Almshouses that we see today at Thornton Dale," said Dr Smith.

"Yet only 20 years after her death, unscrupulous young noblemen tried to defraud the Foundation of all its bequests. Her bequests have benefitted thousands of people in Ryedale over the last 400 years," he said.

Dr Smith has written more than 30 articles on educational history and this is his fifth book.

The book is now available at Amazon and selected bookshops and costs £12.99