‘Mary Linwood was to needlework; what Chippendale was to carpentry’.
She was the daughter of Matthew Linwood and his wife Hannah Turner, (daughter of John Turner, a silversmith in Birmingham). The couple were married in Birmingham 19th May 1753, Matthew’s occupation was that of a linen-draper at that time.
The couple produced 6 children: Matthew (1754), Mary (1755), Samuel Whalley (1756), Sarah (1758), John (1760) and William (c.1762), but in March 1783 Matthew died. When Mary was only 9, her mother, Hannah opened a private boarding school in Leicester, and upon her death, Mary continued to run it for a further 50 years.
Matthew the eldest son and in turn his son, Matthew were to become a plater and buckle maker silversmiths in Birmingham, whilst two of Mary’s brother’s, Samuel Whalley Linwood and his brother, William, went off to Jamaica to make their fortune.
It was here that Samuel met a mulatto girl, Priscilla Reid and the couple produced four children George, 1788; Mary 1789; Jane 1791 and James 1794). Samuel died in Jamaica and was buried at Kingston on 11th June 1801. He must have had some financial help from his mother, Hannah, as in her will of 1805, she made specific reference to his death and monies owed amounting to over £750. Equally, she ensured that his four offspring were provided for. Whether she ever met these grandchildren we may never know.
Apart from taking over as the matriarch of the family, acting as a witness at her sister, Sarah’s marriage, sorting out the will for her sister when her husband, Samuel Markland died, Mary was renowned for her undoubted talent for producing tapestries creating stitches of different lengths on fabric made especially for her. Her works were mainly copies of works by the likes of Joshua Reynolds and in particular, Gainsborough.
It was at the end of 1844 that Mary was taken ill, with influenza during her annual visit to London for an exhibition of needlework. She was so ill that she was taken back to Leicester in an invalid carriage and died just before her 90th birthday.
The Ipswich Journal reported that many poor families would miss her benevolence. It reported that for at least the previous thirty years Mary would rise no later than 4.30am to capture as much daylight as possible and would work until sunset. She was described as possessing:
singular energy and enduring vivacity and was apparently producing work for well over fifty years. She was also well-known for dancing locally to see out the old year and welcome in the new year.
A Mr Gardiner said of her that:
Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter. She sketches the outline, then the parts in detail and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work, accoutred as she was with pincushions all around her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and having once touched the picture with a needle, instead of a brush, she would recede five or six paces to view the effect. Leicester was a convenient place for dyeing her worsteds, but still, there were some she could not obtain, but being a woman of great genius, she set to work and dyed them herself. Her works were displayed in London for almost forty years. They were arranged in two galleries on the north side of Leicester Square. A small room called the ‘Scripture Room’ opens from the first gallery. In this smaller room, there is ‘The Judgement of Cain’ and a copy of Carlo Dolci’s ‘Salvator Mundi for which she was offered and refused three thousand guineas. The judgement of Cain was her last piece of work and took her 10 years to complete and was finished when she was 75. She was also to meet Napoleon and Josephine on one of her visits to Paris.
Mary exhibited her work around Europe including France and Russia, where Catherine the Great offered £40,000 for the whole collection.
In her will, she bequeathed £100 to Leicester Infirmary, the remainder of her estate to family members. She bequeathed the Salvator Mundi to Queen Victoria, who accepted. She asked that if her works were not sold in one lot to a private collector that they should be split up and sold, with the proceeds being divided equally between seventeen recipients.
Mary died on 2nd March 1845 and was buried, at St Margret’s church, Leicester at which she was a regular attendee and where her parents were also buried.
24D65/A4. Burial of Matthew Linwood senior parish register, 7th March 1783. St Margaret’s Leicester
The History and antiquities of the county of Leicester. Compiled from the best and most ancient historians (1795-1815) Matthew Linwood. Died 28th February 1783, aged 56.
Familysearch Jamaica parish registers
Miss Linwood’s gallery of pictures in worsted, Leicester square
Legacies of British Slave Ownership
Bailey’s western and midland directory; or, merchant’s and tradesman’s useful companion for the year 1783.
Exhibition of Miss Linwood’s pictures at the Hanover Square concert rooms. Admittance one shilling. 1798
A catalogue of the pictures, sculptures, models, designs in architecture, prints etc exhibited by the Royal Incorporated Society of Artists. 1776
Leicestershire Mercury 8th March 1845
The Ipswich Journal, Saturday, March 22, 1845