The former chairman of the family-owned Webbs garden centre has finally found time to become a new author aged 73.?Richard Webb, an expert in the horticultural industry, has indulged his love of history after retiring from Webbs in 2005 and from the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2010.
Having written a great deal for gardeners since joining Webbs in 1962, he has now returned to history, his degree subject at Oxford University.
His first book, Mrs D ? the Life of Anne Damer (1748 ? 1828), tells the story of a woman who was much more than a fine sculptress. She was a great niece of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Argyll. Wed, in 1767, in a marriage arranged by their parents, to a man she neither knew nor liked, Anne found freedom in 1767 when her bankrupt husband committed suicide. Widowed, and in more modest circumstances, she forsook the social whirl to become a sculptress – a woman working in a man’s world.
Mrs Damer?s work can be seen in the V and A, the British Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. She sculpted friends and family and their pets as well as public heroes including Admiral Nelson.
Mr Webb said: ?Anne Damer lived through a further 50 years of revolution. She mixed sculpture with acting, writing and travel. She was physically courageous resisting an attack by a French privateer and encountering the poissardes, the terrifying fishwives of revolutionary Paris. Nelson gave her the coat he wore at the Battle of the Nile; Napoleon a diamond encrusted portrait of himself.
?She was part of a special triangular friendship with her godfather Horace Walpole and his prot?g?e Mary Berry, who happily kept a few of her letters. Horace left Anne his famous home Strawberry Hill in Twickenham and gave Mary Berry and her family the house next door.
?As a scion of a leading Whig family, and a successful woman, she was targeted as a lesbian by Tory pamphleteers and jealous gossips. She strongly objected to this and also to inferences that she had someone else to do her sculpting. There is no convincing evidence to support these allegations, though her later friendship with Mary Berry was a very close one.?
Anne Damer left her estate to her niece who was great, great, great grandmother to Richard?s wife Marigold Webb, so the story has a family twist.
Mr Webb, who spent six years working on the book, said: ?I particularly enjoyed the research ? the detective work. Anne Damer instructed her executor to burn all her letters, and he carried out her instructions. But the British Library and local authority archives had what I wanted.?
The illustrated hardback book is now available at ?19.95 through Webbs, Wychbold, and Webbs, West Hagley; Alison?s bookshop in Tewkesbury, and online at webbsdirect.co.uk