Art in the archives: portrait of the Barrett-Lennard family by Pompeo Batoni

As well as looking after the archives for Essex, the ERO is also the Corporate Custodian of Art for Essex County Council (ECC). Besides commissioning portraits of its chairmen ECC has never actively collected art, but has received a number of donations and bequests over the decades. Some of this art is displayed in ECC buildings, while other pieces are in storage at ERO.

Many pieces are viewable on the BBC Your Paintings website, and if there is something in storage that a member of the public would like to see you can make a request for it to be made available – please contact us on

The largest single collection of artwork was donated by the Barrett-Lennard family. It includes this family portrait by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni painted in Rome in 1749/50.

Batoni portrait of Barrett-Lennard family

Portrait of Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter Barbara Anne by Pompeo Batoni, 1749/50

The painting has a very sad story behind it. It shows Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter, Barbara Anne, who had died of tuberculosis the previous year. The artist painted her likeness from a miniature by Thomas Hudson which the couple brought with them on their travels.

Barbara Anne was the couple’s only child, although Thomas had two illegitimate children with a mistress who were brought up by the couple as their own. The eldest, Thomas Fitzthomas, inherited the estate, and in 1786 he was granted the right to adopt his father’s surname and titles, becoming Thomas Barrett-Lennard (more on that here). A portrait of Thomas Jr by John Opie hangs in the ERO Searchroom.

The Barrett-Lennard family lived at the mansion of Belhus in Aveley, which they built up into one of the largest estates in Essex. During Thomas’s tenure, he remodelled the house in the gothic style and employed Capability Brown to landscape the park and gardens.

The painting was loaned for The Family in British Art, a touring exhibition that visited Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in 2011-12. The tour was part of the Great British Art Debate partnered with Tate Britain. It is currently stored at ERO, and is brought out for special occasions for public view. A high quality digital image is available, and anyone wishing to view the original can request for it to be brought out of storage.

Great Totham in 1821 (or thereabouts)

In this guest blog post, Dr James Bettley tells us about fascinating discoveries in Great Totham.

In January 2013, the parishioners of Great Totham were clearing out the vestry at St Peter’s Church following a major reroofing project.  From behind a large wardrobe emerged a painting of the church, not seen for as long as anyone could remember, although the view of the building was familiar from an engraving that had been used as the frontispiece to The History of Great Totham, published in 1831. The painting was dirty, torn, and stained, but it is now being cleaned and repaired (thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Essex Heritage Trust, and the Church Buildings Council), and on Saturday 1 November it will take centre stage at a symposium being organised to celebrate the cultural life of Great Totham in the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s.


Roger Allen (churchwarden) and Sally Woodcock (conservator) discussing the next stage in a delicate process

The church, hall and vicarage were the heart of the village in those days.  The vicar himself, G. S. Townley, spent most of his time in London (he was also rector of St Stephen Walbrook), so from 1810 the parish was looked after by a curate, Thomas Foote Gower; in 1829 Townley was declared of unsound mind, but did not die until 1835, when Gower succeeded him as vicar (and remained until his death in 1849).

Gower was well connected. His father, also a clergyman as well as being a physician and antiquary, lived in Chelmsford and had married the sister of John Strutt M.P., the builder of Terling Place.  Gower moved in good circles, and it is not surprising that when the famous painter of portrait miniatures, Charles Hayter, was living for a few months in Witham in 1821, Hayter and Gower got together.  The painting of Great Totham church is known to be by ‘Miss Hayter’, and there can be little doubt that this was Ann, Charles’s daughter, herself an accomplished and well-known miniature painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1814 and 1830.

Charles Hayter

Members of the Gower family sketching at Layer Marney, 31 May 1821, drawn by Charles Hayter (courtesy of Cheffins, Cambridge)

Gower’s Totham friends included the two Johnson brothers, George William and Cuthbert William, and Charles Clark.  Both the brothers were barristers, but both also achieved fame as writers, G. W. on gardening and C. W. on agriculture.  G. W. also wrote The History of Great Totham, which was printed by Charles Clark – without doubt the most eccentric of the circle.  Nominally a farmer (his father was the tenant of Great Totham Hall), he spent most of his time writing doggerel poetry, printing, and collecting books (his extraordinary letters to a London bookseller, John Russell Smith, are in the Essex Record Office: D/DU 668/1-20).

The symposium on Saturday 1 November will explore the world of Clark, Gower, the Hayters, and the Johnsons, and will include talks, poetry readings, and a demonstration of printing on something like the press that Clark used.  The event runs from 2.30 to about 6.00.  Admission is free, although there will be a charge for tea.  For further information, please go to, or email