Nancy Astor

Author
Claudia Bacchelli, City of Information Centre

Nancy Astor was the first lady to take her seat in Parliament. Her eventful life has connections with extraordinary personalities who shaped British history, an important 2020 anniversary and a hidden gem in the City of London. She presents two links to the Mayflower’s story, of which we celebrated the 400th anniversary in September 2020. In September of 1620 a group of people, who would become known as the Pilgrims, left from Plymouth on board of the Mayflower ship to seek freedom to practice their religion and opportunity across the Atlantic. The intention was to settle in the Colony of Virginia, where they had obtained permission to settle from the Company of Merchant Adventurers. However, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbour at Cape Cod hook, well north of the intended area, where they anchored on November 11. More than 30 million people can trace their ancestry to the 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew who sailed on the Mayflower for a new life in the New World. Nancy Astor was born in 1879 in Danville, Virginia, which is where the English ship ‘Mayflower’ had intended to settle back in the 17th century and 3 Elliot Terrace in Plymouth was the home of the Astor family when Nancy was MP for Plymouth for 25 years, which is at a very short distance from where the Mayflower sailed off on its challenging journey full of hopes and dangers.

Nancy Astor ©Bassano Ltd

Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons in December 1919 and Sir Winston Churchill was then Secretary of State for War. He resented her presence in Parliament. Over the years the hostility between them was obvious. He openly ignored her and criticised her in the Commons. One famous quote that lives on through history describes her telling him that “Winston, if I was married to you I’d put poison in your coffee.” His reply was apparently: “Nancy, if I was married to you, I’d gladly drink it.” Finally, Nancy Astor’s family gives us the opportunity to shed light on one of the best hidden gems that we have in the City of London. Nancy met her second husband, Waldorf Astor, in 1905 on board of the steamer which took her to England. Waldorf Astor was the eldest son of William Waldorf Astor, who was the richest man in America in the late 1800s. He didn’t want to raise his children in America so he moved to England where he bought Cliveden and Hever Castle. In London he built Two Temple Place, an extraordinary late Victorian mansion in the City of London on the Embankment. No expense was spared when work began on Two Temple Place in 1892. In addition to the extraordinary, opulent interior, when it was finished in 1895 Two Temple Place contained the largest strong room in Europe and it’s with no doubt one of London’s architectural gems.  Two Temple Place is the first London venue to specifically showcase publicly-owned collections from around the UK. Launched in 2011, the Winter Exhibition Programme at Two Temple Place delivers annual exhibitions in partnership with museums and galleries around the country.

Two Temple Place ©Gary Ullah CC-BY-2.0.