Mrs Brock was the future Queen Victoria’s nurse. Called by her ‘dear Boppy’ (op. cit., Christopher Hibbert, Queen Victoria, A Personal History, 21), she remained Princess Victoria’s nurse until the age of five, after which she passed into the better-known hands of her governess, Baroness Lehzen. ‘Boppy’ was a periphery character in that childhood which Queen Victoria later decided had been ‘very unhappy’, an arbitrary judgement made with all the full bias of her adult memory. ‘Boppy’ formed part of that female trio at Claremont which adored the little princess, as Queen Victoria later recalled in her private memoir, of which the manuscript survives at Windsor (ed. A. C. Benson and Viscount Esher, The Letters of Queen Victoria, vol 1, 14).
Since writing my recent article about Mrs Brock, I have discovered the grave of ‘Boppy’, thanks to the diligent knowledge of a member of the public, who contacted me with this information, having read it. Tombstones, whilst they can often tell only part of the truth, nevertheless can fill important biographical gaps that otherwise, we would never know. Such is the case with Mrs Brock. Thanks to the discovery of her grave, we can finally learn her full name. Usually, only known as ‘Mrs Brock’ in biographies of Queen Victoria, her name was in fact, Mary Ann Brock, as her memorial reveals.
Her death was recorded – without emotion – in the journal of Princess Victoria in 1836. Working backwards from the words of the entry, I calculated that Mary Ann Brock died on 20 May 1836. The tombstone tells us more – she died in her fifty-fifth year, which enables us to surmise that she must have been born in 1781, five years before the birth of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent.
We do not as yet know what brought Mary Ann Brock to this particular part of former Middlesex, where she presumably died. When she left the service of the Duchess of Kent, her name appears only sparingly in the Princess Victoria’s journal; from the entries, we see that she visited Kensington Palace on occasion, such as in late December 1832 when the young Victoria gave her former nurse a Christmas box. Mrs Brock left the Duchess of Kent’s Household in 1824 when Victoria turned five.
Princess Victoria noted her death dutifully in her journal as follows: ‘Received the news of the death of my poor old Nurse, Mrs Brock, which took place the day before yesterday… she was extremely attached to and fond of me, having been with me from my birth till my fifth year, therefore it is impossible, and it would be very wrong, if I did not feel her death’.
Interestingly, it was not so very far from Claremont, the Surrey mansion house of Princess Victoria’s childhood visits, when ‘Boppy’ had been her nurse. However long Mary Ann Brock lived in historical Middlesex, we can see that she was living close enough at least, to journey into London to visit her former charge at Kensington Palace.
The grave of Mary Ann Brock may be found in the cemetery of St Leonard’s Church, Heston in the parish of Hounslow. Her tombstone inscription, whilst much weathered, still proudly proclaims her royal connection. It reads: ‘Sacred to the memory of Mary Ann Brock who departed this life on the 20th of May 1836 aged 55 years. Many years nurse to H.R.H Princess Victoria of Kent’.
I wonder if the inscription is partly Victoria’s wording. On the one hand, it would accord greatly with the wording of other memorials which she caused to have set up, recording the faithful service of either personal servants or childhood companions. It does begin with similar – albeit typical contemporaneous – wording: ‘Sacred to the memory of…’ and then records the connection with Queen Victoria, who usually referred to herself in the third person on such monuments. Significantly though, it does not record that the memorial was placed there at Victoria’s command, which would have been the case had she done so, which leads me to conclude that on balance, Victoria was not responsible for the memorial. We know that Victoria had no great affection for Mary Ann Brock, but yet recognised her faithful service and attachment to herself. More likely, the tombstone’s wording was later carefully chosen by those who knew Mrs Brock’s connection with Victoria, who acceded to the throne the year after her death, in 1837.
Amongst the many fine stained glass windows at St Leonard’s Church, Heston is a window dedicated to Queen Victoria, whose maker was R. J. Newbery. This is no unique find given the fact that other churches throughout England would have had their own commemorative Jubilee window; in the case of St Leonard’s Church, however, it is undoubtedly a pleasing coincidence, given the fact that the adjoining cemetery contains the grave of the Queen’s childhood nurse.
There is perhaps something touching in the knowledge that Mary Ann Brock was the nurse of the future Queen until she was in her fifth year, whilst the Diamond Jubilee Window in the nearby church with its subject of Christ in Majesty, is dated 1897, when this woman’s former charge was an elderly Queen and Empress, as well as the female figurehead of royal Europe.