How did the world famous literary, radical and political dynasty come to take residence in Boscombe and up in St Peters Church in Bournemouth? Many know of the Shelleys because of their associations with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. The mannor house in Boscombe was indeed built for her but sadly she died at the Shelley’s London family home before it was completed and her son and his wife took occupancy.
Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was just the middle line of a series of political, radical and artistic public figures.
Mary Shelley’s Parents
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. She is regarded today as one of the founders of the women’s rights movement.
William Godwin was a radical philosopher and renowned atheist, with political and moral ideas on truth, justice and liberty.
Then she chose a husband with an equally interesting background.
Mary Shelley’s husband
Percy Bysshe Shelley – Poet – (1792 -1822).
Attended – Eton College – expelled from Oxford University for writing and publishing a paper on “ The Necessity of Atheism”. After a failed romance with his cousin Harriet Grove, he was pursued by Harriet Westbrook and he married her. His father Sir Timothy disowned him on account of both incidents.
He travelled to the Lake District and heard more about William Godwin. He offered to support Godwin financially although cash starved. He visited Ireland and Wales writing papers supporting Irish independence and workers’ rights – both risking revolution during revolutionary times. He survived an assassination attempt. Unhappy in his marriage, he began to spend more time with William Godwin and his daughters. Percy eloped to France with 16 year-old Mary Godwin in1814 (while Percy’s wife Harriet was expecting their first child). William Godwin was distraught. Claire Clairmont – Mary ‘s stepsister – went too also 16 years. Percy Byshee’s reputation grew as did his output of poetry and he became friends with Lord Byron.
In 1816 Percy and Mary rented a house overlooking Lake Geneva next to the Villa Diodati that was rented by Lord Byron. As a result of volcanoes in the Far East, it was a miserable stormy summer and kept indoors they wrote Gothic tales and so the idea of Frankenstein was born and was published successfully in 1817.
Births, Deaths, Suicides and Marriage
Mary had 3 children who all died relatively young. Claire also had a daughter by Lord Byron called Allegra, who was sent to a convent and died as a teenager.
Mary’s half sister Fanny killed herself.
Shelley’s estranged wife Harriet was found floating in the Serpentine in Hyde Park in 1816 and within a month Mary and Percy were married. Mary gave birth to Percy Florence Shelley (The Boscombe Shelley!) in Florence in1819 and he survived.
Percy Bysshe was inspired with a new sense of radicalism and worshipped his friend Edward Williams and his wife Jane. On 18th July 1822 Percy Bysshe and his friend Edward Williams drowned when their boat Don Juan capsized off the Gulf of Spezia (North West of Pisa). His body was cremated by Byron and friends on the beach at Viareggio and his ashes were interred in Rome.
Mary had just had a miscarriage and could not attend. His heart was supposed to have been saved from the fire and brought back to England where it eventually rested under the dome in the Shelley Sanctum (now part of the NHS doctors practice further along our building). Mary wrote other novels and published Percy’s writings but struggled financially as Sir Timothy disowned her.
Life of Sir Percy Florence, the Boscombe Shelley
Sir Percy was rather a playboy, loved sailing and the theatre. He married Jane St John and was financially secured when he inherited his title. He bought Boscombe Cottage, and 36 acres of the land around it, buying the house especially for Mary Shelley to live in, and had it rebuilt based on the Casa Magni in Lerici, the last home of Percy Bysshe and Mary, and renamed it Boscombe Manor. Mary dies before it was completed and Percy and Jane took residence.
Lady Jane had the bodies of Mary’s parents moved from St Pancras churchyard to a new vault in St Peters Churchyard in Bournemouth where they were reburied with Mary.
Sir Percy and Lady Jane became philanthropic and respectable, donating money to build many of the landmarks that can still be seen in Boscombe today such as The Old School House (formerly BCCA), Boscombe Gardens and Boscombe Hospital (as was). Lady Jane devoted her life to raising the status of Percy Bysshe to near Sainthood which included publishing his writings but also removing ‘unsuitable’ pages from diaries and letters!
Sir Percy died in 1899 and was buried in the family vault. Percy Bysshe’s heart was buried in the same vault when Lady Shelley died in 1899. No direct descendants from Sir Percy and Lady Jane – their adopted daughter and her husband Leopold Scarlett inherited and eventually sold the Manor.
The current descendant is Lord Abinger.
Sir Percy had a timber theatre built in the Boscombe Manor grounds but replaced it with the current grander theatre which was opened in 1870 with a public performance. Many of their friends acted and came to see shows including Sir Henry Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson (who wrote Jekyll and Hyde in Bournemouth).
Roads nearby are named after the family and their friends eg: Portman, Byron Florence, Irving and St John.
Lady Jane was often too ill to go downstairs but she could watch the shows from her bedroom through a shutter which is still there today. The bedroom is now used as our projection booth!
Shelley Manor ownership
Boscombe Manor house was bought by Grovely Girls School in 1911 – renaming it Grovely Manor. It was sold to the council in 1938 as a Home Guard and First Aid Centre in WW2. Post war it became the Bournemouth Art and Technical College. Bournemouth Council auctioned it to Charles Higgins Ltd in 2005.The theatre is now leased to The Shelley Theatre Trust.
St Peters Church
The family are now laid to rest in the grave yard at St Peters church in the centre of Bournemouth.