Lost long portrait of scandalous Hanbury Hall resident rediscovered

Droitwich Advertiser: The portrait of 22-year-old Emma Vernon, which is now on display at Hanbury Hall. SP The portrait of 22-year-old Emma Vernon, which is now on display at Hanbury Hall. SP

HANBURY Hall near Droitwich is returning the portrait of one of its most scandalous residents, who lived there at the end of the 18th century.

The portrait of Emma Vernon had hung on the walls of the hall at one time, but for more than a century it has been absent, until the National Trust tracked it down and brought it back to the building.

Miss Vernon inherited the Hanbury Hall estate on her 17th birthday, and a few years later she was found a suitable match, Henry Cecil, and the two were married.

The couple lived at Hanbury and Emma gave birth to a son, who died after only two months leaving the marriage somewhat strained.

She then befriended the new curate at the village church William Sneyd, and after the friendship turned into an affair, the two eloped to London and then Devon, before eventually moving to Portugal where William died, and Emma returned home.

By the time of Emma’s return Henry Cecil had already started divorce proceedings, selling off much of the hall’s contents, and it’s thought that he most likely sold the couple’s own marriage portraits at the same time.

What happened next has remained a mystery until a few months ago, when historians discovered that Henry went on to marry a local farmer’s daughter, while Emma married for a third time to a man called John Philips.

The estate stayed with Henry in line with the laws of the time, and remained locked up and almost derelict until he died, and it was returned to Emma and her husband.

She remained at the estate until she died in 1818.

The National Trust was thrilled when an art and antiques dealer in Devon got in touch with Hanbury’s house engagement manager, Michelle Hill to say they might have discovered the marriage portrait of Emma.

She said: “I was very excited to think we might have found a portrait of Emma, but then we had thought that another picture in our collection showed her later life, so I tried not to get my hopes up. Then when all of the conservators and curators confirmed that it really was her, I was thrilled. Emma has finally come home and she’ll be a real asset to the house.”

The portrait shows Emma Vernon in the late 1770s as a 22-year-old, ready to embark on her first marriage, her affair, two further marriages, and the bigamy and divorce cases against her, all still in her future.

The portrait of Emma, along with one of Henry Cecil, will be on display in the house until the autumn, when they will undergo further conservation to make sure they are in good enough condition for permanent display at the Hall.

For more information, call 01527 821214 or visit nationaltrust.org.uk/hanburyhall.

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