Welbeck’s Heroic Housekeeper

There are many ladies from the Welbeck Estate’s long history who merit a mention on International Women’s Day. We could write about the great seventeenth-century philosopher and author Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Or maybe her descendants, Lady Henrietta, Countess of Oxford and Mortimer, the visionary behind Welbeck Abbey’s gothic revival interiors, and her bluestocking daughter Margaret, Duchess of Portland, who amassed the largest natural history collection in the country. Today, however, we wanted to shine a spotlight on another impressive woman, who won’t be found in any of the fine portraits in the Portland Collection, but who certainly made her mark during her time at the Abbey.


Mary Ann Marshall was born in Alnwick, Northumberland, in 1843. Photographs passed down through her family show her as a tall, handsome and very smartly-dressed young woman. They also hint at a plucky spirit. In one photograph from c.1880 she is seated on an adult tricycle, dressed in her housemaid’s uniform. This was a bold statement in a society where pedal-powered vehicles were still considered to be highly unsuitable for women.