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The Earl of Hertford

Stephen Digby had little time to wait before discovering a tenant for the house. Once again it was a member of an aristocratic family, and one deeply involved in Whig politics - Francis Seymour Conway, earl (later marquis) of Hertford.

Hertford had been born in 1719, the son of Lord Conway. His appointments during a long career included - lord of the bedchamber, knoight of the garter, privy councillor, ambassador extraordinary to France, lord lieutenant of Ireland, and lord chamberlain of the household. However, by the time he came to retire at Fords he was in his sixtieth year. Which is probably why he was looking for a country retreat within easy reach of town. And found it here.

Once again the house became a centre for social and political gatherings. One of its most frequent habituees being Hertford's cousin, the now ageing versifier, wit, and purveyor of tittle-tattle - Horace Walpole.

Hon Francis Seymour Conway

Hon. Francis Seymour Conway, Marquess Of Hertford, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Walpole's voluminous correspondence contains many references to visits here(100), which, like much of his socialising, seems to have been at least in part, for the sake of gathering intelligence to fill the missives which flowed daily from his pen at Strawberry Hill and were sent all over the kingdom. Disappointed he was, too, when none was forthcoming. In August 1780, for instance, he wrote to the countess of Upper Ossory: "My charming duchess", as he affectionately addressed her, "I dined at Ditton, and though Lord Beauchamp, a great news-monger, was there, I did not learn a tittle" (101).

On occasions the house seems to have been overflowing with guests. On 25 July 1781: "Last night we went to Lady Hertford at Ditton. Soon after Lady North and her daughters arrived, and besides Lady Elizabeth and Lady Bel Conways, there were the brothers Hugh and George. All the jeunesse strolled about the gardens. We ancients, with the earl and Colonel Keene, retired from the dew into the drawing-room. Soon after the two youths and seven nymphs came in, and shut the door of the hall"(l02).

Lady Hertford died in 1782. Walpole confided to his old friend the countess of Upper Ossory: "I truly loved her, and she was invariably kind to me for forty years. She had been seized on the preceeding Sunday with a violent cough and spitting blood, and left Ditton on the Tuesday for fear of being confined in that damp spot, which has been her death. I was witness to so many virtues in her, that after my lord and her children, I believe, nobody regrets her so sincerely as I do. Her house was one of my few remaining habitudes" (103).

After her death the earl lost all heart for Fords, gave up the tenancy, and moved away. Although his residence here was for but a short three years or so, Walpole's letters have ensured that it will be a long remembered one. He died on 14 June 1798(104).

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