A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Robert Canning of Hartpury

Robert Canning (1773-1843)  lived at Hartpury, near Gloucester. He was the second son of an ancient family whose seat was at Foxcote, near to Ilmington, situated on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire border. Back in 1801 Robert Canning had married Catherine Berkeley and it is likely, that upon their marriage, he built, New Court, a mansion-house on his estate, leaving the ancient manor house vacant.

Robert Canning

Robert Canning

From 1794 to 1839, Hartpury gave shelter to a community of expatriate Dominican nuns from Brussels. At the time of their arrival Hartpury Manor belonged to the trustees for Jane and Catherine Berkeley, whose father was Dr John Berkeley. Catherine’s sister, Jane, later married Thomas Anthony, Viscount Southwell.

The community would have been known to Robert Canning prior to his marriage as his great, great aunt, Dorothy Canning, had been the prioress at “Spillikins” from 1703 to 1706. Robert was a devout Roman Catholic and supported the mission in Gloucester and, it was said that, in 1828, ‘good old Squire Canning of Hartpury’ was responsible for bringing Abbe Josse to minister in the City.

In 1878 Canon Eustace Barron, the new Missioner at St Peter’s, Gloucester, arranged an exhibition of vestments, ancient and modern. The most beautiful vestment came from Foxcote and was worked by Robert Canning’s mother. It was said to have occupied her during all her lifetime and was stated to be the most exquisite piece of work. Robert’s mother, Catherine Canning (nee Giffard of Chillington), died in 1798, aged sixty.

Robert had two Canning aunts, namely, Anne-Marie, who was Superior of the English Augustinian Nuns in Paris, and Mary, who married Joseph Blount. For more about Mary’s family see:

‘Mary Blount, nee Canning’:

and ‘Family Portraits of the Blount Family of Mapledurham’:

Robert’s first cousin, Fanny Blount of Leamington Spa, ‘communicated’  an important extract from Rev. John Birdsall’s ‘Memoirs of the Gloucester Mission’ which was copied into the earliest Register and it is the first historical account that we have of the mission. In 1809 Birdsall (1775-1837) established the first Catholic Chapel in Cheltenham and he was later President of the English Benedictines.

‘The letter from Sir John Webb to Bp Walmesley, saying that Bp Talbot (V.A. of the London District) and his successors were to nominate the Priest for Gloucester, is dated Aug 9 1788. Seven or eight hundred pounds of the 1000 guineas placed in Bp Talbot’s hands by Sir John Webb’s daughter are said to have been left for the above purpose by Sir J. Webb’s daughter, who died at Hotwells Bristol in 1787.

Rev Mr. Gildart left Gloucester May 15, 1789, & was succeeded by Rev Mr Greenway, who purchased the house and garden. He died Nov 29 1800 much regretted – he was buried near the wall under the pillar between the two windows nearest the altar.’

Sadly, Robert’s wife, Catherine, died in 1823, aged forty-seven. Her family erected a memorial to her in Hartpury Parish Church, designed by Cooke of Gloucester. Robert Canning later married his second wife, Maria Cherton of Longford House, Gloucester, and she became the mother of his two daughters, Maria and Frances Canning.

Robert Canning's daughters

Maria and Frances Catharine Canning

From the Diary of a Cotswold Parson: March 29th, 1832

‘Mr. Canning of Hartpury, near Gloucester, is High Sheriff, a Roman Catholic gentleman and the first of his persuasion, who has held the office in this county. He is a popular man among the Whigs, a bon-vivant and an old sportsman; but served the office sadly against his will, and in a shabby manner with a mean looking carriage and horses and homely liveries, etc. He was bigotted enough to decline accompanying the judges into the cathedral this morning; but left them at the gate, returning to take them up and convey them in his carriage to the court.’



Robert Canning’s father, Francis Canning, spent much of his time in France but died at Foxcote in 1806, aged 63 years, and he is buried at Ilmington with his wife who died eight years earlier. They had three sons. The eldest, also Francis (born in 1772), who married Jane Huddleston from Sawston Hall in Cambridgeshire, inherited Foxcote in 1806, but died without issue in 1831. Foxcote then passed to his brother, Robert Canning of Hartpury, who died at Foxcote on 14th August 1843, aged 69 years.

In his will, which was written on 19th July 1841, Robert Canning provided for his wife and left her the house in which he resided at Hartpury for her use until his daughters reached the age of twenty-one. Legacies included £100 for his aunt, Mary Blount of Cheltenham, and £300 for her daughter, Frances or Fanny Blount. Robert directed that his two daughters ‘should be brought up and educated in the principles and profession of the Roman Catholic Religion and be allowed to remain in the custody of my wife trusting that a regard for my memory and the assistance of her co-guardians will be ample security for the fulfilment of my wishes.’ His cousins Eliza Riddell and Frances (or Fanny) Blount, along with his wife, Maria, were appointed as his daughters’ Guardians and Henry Riddell, of Lincolns Inn Fields, Barrister-at-law, and his wife were appointed as the Executors of the will.

More minor legacies included ten pound each for the upper servants, five pounds each for the under servants, together with a decent suit of mourning, and the butler was to receive all of his wearing apparel. Nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence was to be used for distributing bread to the poor of Hartpury and a like sum to be used for distributing coal.

In 1849, Robert’s widow, Maria, married a barrister, Alexander Wright Daniel, at Hartpury Parish Church and she died in 1868.

Foxcote 15 - Robert Canning.JPG

Memorial to Robert Canning in Ilmington Parish Church

Robert’s daughter, Maria was one of many people to succumb to smallpox in the June of 1848, however, she married Patrick Gordon, five months later, and they continued to live at Hartpury House. Maria was a devout Catholic although her husband did not share her faith. The family also owned Longford House, Gloucester, which was where Frances was living during the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. Gilbert Blount, the architect, regularly stayed with his cousins at Hartpury, especially during the shooting season.

The Bishop of Clifton and Canon Calderbank (the Missioner) wished to build a new church in Gloucester and they invited Gilbert Blount to be their architect. He accepted and his relative, Frances Canning, became a major benefactress and laid the foundation stone in 1859. Frances married Edmund Philip Herbert in 1880 and died twenty-five years later.

Her sister, Maria Gordon-Canning died at Hartpury from diphtheria on 17th March 1887 and this marked an end to the family’s Roman Catholic involvement until a descendent, Mary Gwynne-Holford, was received into full communion.


Hartpury Court 

From the archivist of the Dominican Community at Carisbrooke:

There is very little in our annals about Hartpury Court itself, they are mostly concerned with the Sisters.  After their returned from Brussels in 1794, the Sisters stayed for six weeks in lodgings in Seymour Street, London and one their number Sr. M. Joseph Hunt, died there on August 10th.  They found, however, kind and generous friends in Catherine and Jane Berkeley, daughters of John Berkeley, Esq., of Hindlip, Worcestershire, who were afterwards married one to Robert Canning. Esq., and the other to Viscount Southwell.

These ladies established the Community in a house at Hartpury Court, Glos, to which the Sisters moved from London, August 28th and September 1st.  They travelled by coach and each party arrived the same day.  There is no record of their journey beyond a few entries in an old account book.

6 yds. lay cloth to cover the boxes 12/-

For a cart to carry the things 6/-

The coach for the nuns to Gloucester  £5.12

For expenses of the road to Gloucester £2.15.10

For carriage of things to ditto £8.13.

The account book adds that the expenses from the time of leaving Brussels till their arrival at Hartpury amounted to £170

“besides what has been or will be paid by Fr. Short” (Fr. Benedict Short, Provincial)  The nuns seemed to have been kindly received at Hartpury by their Protestant neighbours, for almost the first entry of benefactions is £5 from the Bishop of Gloucester and another £5 from the Dean of Gloucester’s lady.

The account books throw light on the price of things needful in those days, Coal 12/6 per ton, butter 1/- per lb., meat 4/4½ per lb, bacon 7/-.  A man to work 1/-, grafting a tree 6d.  Mikey for one year service £1.4/-.

Hartpury court, the old manor house their kind benefactors placed at their disposal, was in a quaint village about 5 miles from Gloucester the nearest place of importance and 13 miles from Cheltenham.

Here the nuns opened a school, which they gave up in 1832, in order to keep their Rule more closely and to return to their Contemplative life.  Things looked very gloomy at first and they were doubtful whether they would be able to maintain themselves in England.  The sequestration of their property in Flanders left them with very slender means and, while in London, they had been obliged to sell a Monstrance which had been brought in state from S. Gudules after the sacrilege and in a account book is the entry – “repaid to Mr. David Nagle the sum of £85 which he lent us to come to England met.”  Later on the nuns received 7000 florins, which the Count de Merode had managed to save from their property in Brussels.  The nuns lived at Hartpury Court for 45 years – Mr. Berkeley died in 1811

Up to 1833 the nuns kept a school of which no records remain except in the account books.  It seems to have been fairly successful – A small advertisement cut from an old Ordo gives the only details we have.

At Hartpury Court 5 miles from Gloucester Young ladies from 6 to 12 year of age are boarded and educated on the following terms for board, washing, reading and writing and arithmetic English and French grammar, geography and the use of the globe, also plain and monumental works twenty eight guineas per annum, fourteen to be paid half yearly in advance.  Entrance two guineas.  For the use of sheets and towels, unless the young ladies bring them, half a guinea per annum.  No vacation will be kept nor any additional charge made on that account.  Each young lady to bring a knife, fork, table and teaspoon to be returned when they leave school.  Uniform for every day, purple bombazel, to be furnished by the School and placed to account and white for Sundays.  Music and drawing per quarter, one guinea each, entrance one guinea each.  Dancing per quarter one guinea; entrance half a guinea.  N.B. English grammar taught by Rev. L. Brittain.  Three months notice to be given previous to leaving school, or pay three months board etc.

Tradition says that Sr. M. Dominica Stewart was first mistress of the school.  Sr. Rosalie Bourdici (one of the Sisters from Metz) taught piano, French and singing.  That the pupils were well fed and had excellent appetites may be inferred from the great quantities of meat consumed in the establishment 300 to 400 and sometimes 500 lbs per month, but of course we do not know the number of persons this included.

The school being given up in 1833, the nuns began to consider how they might resume the Contemplative and the observances they had been obliged to give up for so long, the strict enclosure, midnight rising, silence, abstinence and the holy habit.  It was impossible to keep regular observance in a house shared with seculars.  Mr. Canning had built a Chapel adjoining the house and the nuns and their pupils (during the school period) occupied a tribune entered from the dormitory.  Mass on Sundays was said at 8:30 for the convenience of seculars but the nun were obliged to come down into the Church to receive Holy Communion at 7:30.  One of the ordinations of Fr. Pious Potier’s Visitation in 1809 is “That no Religious shall eat or drink with seculars excepting with Mrs. Berkeley and the other secular inmates of the house”.  And other regulations give an insight into the kind of life our Mothers were obliged to lead at this time.  Meanwhile the old house was getting very much out of repair and pronounced by an Architect not worth doing up.  It is said that Mr. Canning offered to build them a convent but the nuns refused on the grounds that they did not want a founder to have the right of entrance.  By some means they managed to raise money to build a Convent at Atherstone in Warwickshire.  Mr. Canning gave them £2000; they drew another £2000 from their capital.  A lady gave Bishop Walsh £2000 for them, but where the rest of the money came from is not known.  There is no record of who chose the site, presumably the Provincial.  The foundation stone was by Ambrose de Lisle Phillips Esq. on October 18th, 1837 and a sermon preached by the Provincial, Fr. Augustine Proctor OP.

The nuns left Hartpury on Sept 16th, 1839 deeply lamented by the villagers who had learnt to love them and gathered round to wish them Godspeed.  They arrived at their new home the same evening.  They had professed 10 members at Hartpury Court; nine of their number were buried there.  Also two Chaplains, Rev. Fr. Lewis Brittain OP and Fr. Vincent A Lawson OP.

This is all to be found about Hartpury Court.

1x        according to old account books

            Robert Canning gave £500 to pay for the land at Atherstone

2x        according to old account books the Community twice sold out Bank

Stock of about £2000 and again £500.  All sent to Prov. for new Convent

This of course does not really concern Hartpury Court.’


‘England Again – Hartpury Court

The kind benefactresses of the Community placed at the Nuns’ disposal Hartpury Court, a manor house in a little village about five miles from Gloucester. Here the Sisters were to live for forty-five years. It was almost impossible to keep any sort of enclosure, and there is a sorry that the Canning’s butler asked the Sisters to help him with the table when he was preparing for a dinner-party.

The nuns seem to have been kindly received by their Protestant neighbours. One of the first benefactions recorded is: ‘£5 from the Bishop of Gloucester, and £5 from the Dean of Gloucester’s lady.’ The sequestration of their property in Brussels had left them very badly off; they, therefore, opened a school which appears to have been successful. No record remains of it, however, except for a few account books and a quaintly worded advertisement.

“At Hartpury Court, five Miles from the City of Gloucester, Young ladies from 6 to 12 years of age are boarded and educated on the following terms: for board, washing, reading, writing, and arithmetic, English and French grammar, geography, and the use of the globes, also plain and ornamental works, twenty-eight guineas per ann. fourteen to be paid in advance. Entrance two guineas. For the ufe of sheets and towels, unlefs the young ladies bring them, half a guinea per annum. No vacation will be kept, nor will any additional charge be made on that account. Each young lady to bring a knife, fork, table and tea spoon, to be returned when they leave school. Uniform for every day, purple bombazet, to be furnished at the school, and placed to account, and white for Sundays. Mufic and drawing per quarter one guinea each, entrance one guinea each. Dancing per quarter one guinea; entrance half a guinea. – N.B. English grammar taught by the Rev. L. Brittain. Three months notice to be given previous to leaving school, or pay three months board, &c.”

That the pupils were well fed and had good appetites may be gathered from the very large amount of meat consumed in the establishment: 300 to 400 lbs. every month and sometimes even 500 lbs.! Of course we do not know the number of persons who were fed, and the nuns were not, at this time, keeping the rule of perpetual abstinence. They were unable to wear the habit, and for the first years at Hartpury wore a black dress and cap. On Whitsunday 1813, they put on black veils and a white kerchief. They had but one white habit, which was used for clothings and professions. May other observances were mde impossible from the fact of sharing a house with a secular family. They did their best under the circumstances. One of the ordinations made at the Provincial’s visitation in 1809 throws light on the kind of life they were obliged to lead. Father Pius Potier says: ‘No religious shall eat or drink with seculars except with Mrs. Berkeley and the other secular inmates of the house.’

In 1804 the Community received a visit from Father Dominic Fenwick, O.P., afterwards first bishop of Cincinnati and founder of the Province of St Joseph, U.S.A. Though an American he was a Friar of the English Province. He suggested that the nuns should go with him to America and wrote to the Provincial on the subject, but nothing came of it in the end. France was to send the first Dominican nuns to the States.

During the years at Hartpury nine nuns and two chaplains died and were buried in the cemetery of the parish church. Their names are inscribed on an illuminated parchment which hangs in the little chapel built for them by Mr. Canning, in which they praised God through days of much hardship and suffering. The account of a lay sister taken from the Obit Book may be of interest.

‘Sister Catherine Van Roy, Flemish, died at a good old age. She was very cheerful and kindly, keeping up to the last. It is recorded that a few months before her death, the Chaplain and the Prioress, feeling anxious about her, decided that she should have the Last Sacraments. She was not there when the Father came and had to be fetched from the kitchen to receive the Last Rites of Holy Church! She was cook for many years and had the care of the dole for the poor. She saved and looked after every scrap and often managed to make a comfortable meal for them out of very little. In return they loved her and cherished her memory. One poor woman covered her grave with primrose and violet roots and for many years kept it in order.’


An anonymous donation of £2,000 and other benefactions of which we know nothing enabled the nuns to build a beautiful little monastery at Atherstone in Warwickshire, where all the Dominican observances could be carried out. Unfortunately the Prioress and her Council had not foreseen the total cost of the building, and after struggling for years to pay off the debt, some fear of involving the Provincial in their financial difficulties, obliged them to sell their convent for £4,000 (less than half the original cost) to the Benedictine Nuns of Colwich for a new foundation. It is now St Scholastica’s Abbey.’


Sister Mary Dominic Stennett

Sister Agnes Stead

Sister Jane Frances Russell

Sister Mary Joseph Cooper

Sister Hyacinth Molthouse (as Malthus)

Sister Catherine King

Sister Louisa Speakman

Sister Catherine Teresa Gregory

Sister Mary Frances Malthouse

Lay Sister: Ann Austin Jeffs


1800 Sister Mary Ann Calvert

1816 Sister Anne Dominic Brooke

1821 Sister Mary Louisa Allgood

1824 Sister Catherine Teresa Danton

1827 Father Thomas Lewis Brittain O.P. – Chaplain

1828 Sister Mary Catherine King

1831 Father Vincent Adamson O.P. – Chaplain

1832 Sister Mary Magdalene Baistow

1833 Sister Catherine Van Roy


 For a full history of the Chapel and an account of the descendants of Robert Canning see: ‘The Manors of Hartpury a village in North-west Gloucestershire’, by James R. Chapman ISBN 0-9538968-1-1

Publications available from the Trust

hartpury 1

Photographs take when Father Bernard Delaney, O.P., re-dedicated the Chapel to Saint Dominic on 1st January 1936.

Hartpury 2


St Mary’s Catholic Chapel, Hartpury, in 1905, with the Parish Church adjoining.


The Chapel in about 1983


The Chaplain’s House in 1983c



Portrait at Hartpury Agricultural College


Clara Jane Isabella Bettina Crawshay Bailey (-1940) the wife of William James Gordon-Canning (1857-1929) who was a son of Maria Gordon-Canning and therefore a grandson of Robert Canning of Hartpury.
















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