Lady Marian Margaret Compton was born in Italy in 1817 the elder daughter of the second Marquess of Northampton and Margaret MacLean Clephane. She did not come to England until 1830. She maintained her love of Italy throughout her life. In 1841 she married John Hume (Egerton Cust) Viscount Alford and bore him two sons, who were later to become the 2nd and 3rd Earls Brownlow. Although she never received any formal training she was quite a competent artist and a great patron of the arts and was particularly interested in needlework. It was largely due to her that the Royal School of Art Needlework was founded in South Kensington in 1868. She published Needlework As Art and edited the Handbook of Embroidery by L. Higgin.
Among the archives of Belton House (the main seat of the Brownlows) is a poem signed by Princess Mary Adelaide, mother of Queen Mary, written while staying with Lady Marian at Ashridge.
While Ashridge Hall still burns with light
And revels gay awake the night
Our hearts’ best homage we would pay
To her who now inspires this lay,
With sumptuous grace and gentle ward
Dispensing gifts thro’out this land
The Poorman’s friend, the rich man’s joy
In her we find without alloy
Whate’er can charm and raise the mind
For she is noble as she’s kind.
M.A. Jany 18th 1860
In the verse which Princess Mary Adelaide wrote on her visit to Ashridge she describes Lady Marian as the “Poorman’s friend” and it is as that more than for anything else that she is remembered in Little Gaddesden and the surrounding villages.
Jennifer Sherwood, Chronicle v.XV (Mar 2018).