“The fatal ring”…

Whilst doing a little bit of digging into the archives and researching members of the Greg family, I found a collection of letters from Robert Hyde Greg, second owner of Quarry Bank, to his fiancée, and later wife, Mary.

Robert Hyde Greg
Robert Hyde Greg

It’s been a little while since I had to use my palaeography skills and so fortunately I had Ally Tsilika, Quarry Bank’s Curatorial Assistant on hand to help me when I got stuck, and together we found an entirely different side to Robert. Ally informed me that her impression of the man was one of what would probably be classified as Victorian stiffness, but the letters revealed a great deal of warm affection for his soon to be bride…

Robert had been a friend of the Philips family for a few years and had been a close friend in particular of Mary, and his letters chart the blossoming of their friendship into deep affection and love.It seems that Robert began to realise his true feelings for Mary in early 1824, for at the beginning of February, when Mary had returned from a short trip, Robert writes that;

“Your sudden and unexpected journey annoyed and distressed me not a little and not knowing when we might meet again and under what circumstance, I was induced to write you that note which perhaps you have thought I expressed more than I was entitled to.”

Mary Philips
Mary Philips

From his letters we can speculate that she was also beginning to tentatively reveal her feelings for Robert, who had further written to her explaining “but you know Mary that we stand on slippery ground and cost what it may to me hereafter, still I am determined to act honestly…I confess that then my feelings and affections turned towards you.”

In March 1824 Robert finally plucked up the courage to propose to Mary and she accepted, although she had to return the ring as it was slightly too big. Robert’s letter of response is full of joy and affection;

“I return your ring, “the fatal ring” as you call it and I will not object to the term. It has been fatal not to my hopes however but to my fears, not to my peace of mind but to my anxieties, not to my repose but to the miserable agitation I was in when I first offered it to your acceptance.”

(I have an image of him in my mind, looking flushed, fidgety and pulling at his collar as he stumbles his way through his proposal and the sheer relief that must have flooded his face when she accepted!)

As hinted at in his earlier letters, Robert and Mary had much to lose if she had declined to accept his proposal, and he was seriously concerned that should she decline he would lose not just Mary but her entire family;

“I then feared that in seeking a wife I might lose my friend, that the long and pleasant intercourse with your family might be interrupted or broken, that I might unhappily be eating poison into the very spring from which had flowed much of my happiness.”

RHG to MP 3 April 1824

Robert and Mary married on 14 June 1824, and initially they lived in Manchester, until 1830 when Robert built Norcliffe Hall in Styal as their new family home. It seems they had a happy marriage with Mary recording in 1828;

“My dear husband is, indeed, a comfort to me.  What should I do without him.  Oh God!  Grant him health and cheerfulness.”

Robert Hyde Greg in later life
Robert Hyde Greg in later life

Robert and Mary had 6 children together, including Edward Hyde Greg who would inherit Quarry Bank Mill upon his father’s death in 1875.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Great article Laura, thanks.

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