Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts
Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (21 April 1814 – 30 December 1906), born Angela Georgina Burdett, was a nineteenth-century philanthropist, the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and the former Sophia Coutts, daughter of banker Thomas Coutts. In 1837 she became the wealthiest woman in England when she inherited her grandfather's fortune of nearly three million pounds sterling, following the death of her stepgrandmother, Harriot Mellon, who had enjoyed a life interest in the estate. Angela joined the surnames of her father and grandfather, by royal licence, to become Burdett-Coutts. Edward VII is reported to have described her as: "After my mother, the most remarkable woman in the kingdom."
She was widely known as "the richest heiress in England". She was a great collector of paintings including many Old Masters. Amongst the contemporary paintings she purchased was Robert Scott Lauder's Christ Walking on the Sea. The Reverend Richard Harris Barham, in a ballad he wrote under the pen name "Thomas Ingoldsby" for the Queen Victoria's coronation as part of the Ingoldsby Legends, referred to her as "Miss Anjaley Coutts". She became a notable subject of public curiosity, receiving numerous offers of marriage. She inherited the country house at The Holly Lodge in Highgate, which was then just outside London, where she was famous for throwing large parties.
Burdett-Coutts spent part of each year at the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton with her former governess and later companion Hannah Brown, to whom she was devoted. She was a great friend of both Charles Dickens and The Duke of Wellington, and it was rumoured that she had proposed to the Duke despite the great disparity in their ages. When Brown died in 1878, Burdett-Coutts wrote to a friend that she was utterly crushed by the loss of "my poor darling, the companion and sunshine of my life for 52 years".
Three years later, when she was 67, she shocked polite society by marrying her 29-year-old secretary,the American-born William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who became MP for Westminster on 12 February 1881. Her new husband changed his surname to Burdett-Coutts. Lady Burdett-Coutts left no issue.
scholarships, endowments, and a wide range of philanthropic causes. One of her earliest was to establish, with the novelist Charles Dickens, Urania Cottage, a home that helped young women who had "turned to a life of immorality" including theft and prostitution.
Burdett-Coutts carefully avoided taking any side in party politics, but she was actively interested in phases of Imperial extension which were calculated to improve the condition of the black races, as in Africa, or the education and relief of the poor or suffering in any part of the world. Though she made no special distinction of creed in her charities, Burdett-Coutts was a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing three churches including St Stephen's in Rochester Row, Westminster and church schools. As executor of the will of the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (the author of several volumes of poetry), she, with the Reverend Thomas Helmore (another poet), used a large sum from Townshend's estate, at his request, to build a primary school in Westminster. The school is called Burdett-Coutts & Townshend Foundation Church of England Primary School.
She also personally endowed the bishoprics of Cape Town and Adelaide (1847), and the founding bishopric of British Columbia (1857). The granite fountain in Edinburgh, with a statue of Greyfriars Bobby, was erected by Baroness Burdett-Coutts. She also established the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 1883, the Westminster Technical Institute in 1893 and was closely involved with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
Burdett-Coutts founded Columbia Road market in 1869, in Bethnal Green in the East End of London, the district where much of her work was carried out. She was a pioneer in social housing with her project in Columbia Square. Through her support of missionary and nursing efforts she was associated with Louisa Twining and Florence Nightingale. Her small housing development, Holly Village, on the corner of what was then her estate, is now in private hands and may still be seen in Highgate.
Other roles and philanthropic projects included:
In recognition of her philanthropic work, in 1871 Queen Victoria conferred a peerage on her under the title Baroness Burdett-Coutts, of Highgate and Brookfield in the County of Middlesex. On 18 July 1872 she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London at the Guildhall and in 1874 was Edinburgh's first woman Burgess, also being presented with the Freedom of that city.
Lady Burdett-Coutts died of acute bronchitis at her house in Stratton Street, Piccadilly. By the time of her death she had given more than £3 million to good causes. She was buried on 5 January 1907 near the West Door in the nave of Westminster Abbey. The barony became extinct on her death.
Charles Dickens dedicated his novel Martin Chuzzlewit to her and she had many royal and eminent friends. The book Flashman's Lady by George MacDonald Fraser makes reference to her (fictional) love interest for James Brooke (The White Rajah); and his rejection of her due to his physical affliction. Angela Burdett-Coutts also features in Terry Pratchett's novel Dodger.