1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Burdett-Coutts, Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, Baroness
BURDETT-COUTTS, ANGELA GEORGINA BURDETT-COUTTS, Baroness (1814–1906), English philanthropist, youngest daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, was born on the 21st of April 1814. When she was three-and-twenty, she inherited practically the whole of the immense wealth of her grandfather Thomas Coutts (approaching two millions sterling, a fabulous sum in those days), by the will of the duchess of St Albans, who, as the actress Henrietta Mellon, had been his second wife and had been left it on his death in 1821. Miss Burdett then took the name of Coutts in addition to her own. “The faymale heiress, Miss Anjaley Coutts,” as the author of the Ingoldsby Legends called her in his ballad on the queen’s coronation in that year (1837), at once became a notable subject of public curiosity and private cupidity; she received numerous offers of marriage, but remained resolutely single, devoting herself and her riches to philanthropic work, which made her famous for well-applied generosity. In May 1871 she was created a peeress, as Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate and Brookfield, Middlesex. On the 18th of July 1872 she was presented at the Guildhall with the freedom of the city of London, the first case of a woman being admitted to that fellowship. It was not till 1881 that, when sixty-seven years old, she married William Lehman Ashmead-Bartlett, an American by birth, and brother of Sir E. A. Ashmead-Bartlett, the Conservative member of parliament; and he then took his wife’s name, entering the House of Commons as member for Westminster, 1885. Full of good works, and of social interest and influence, the baroness lived to the great age of ninety-two, dying at her house in Stratton Street, Piccadilly, on the 30th of December 1906, of bronchitis. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The extent of her benefactions during her long and active life can only be briefly indicated; but the baroness must remain a striking figure in the social history of Victorian England, for the thoughtful and conscientious care with which she “held her wealth in trust” for innumerable good objects. It was her aim to benefit the working-classes in ways involving no loss of independence or self-respect. She carefully avoided taking any side in party politics, but she was actively interested in phases of Imperial extension which were calculated to improve the condition of the black races, as in Africa, or the education and relief of the poor or suffering in any part of the world. Though she made no special distinction of creed in her charities, she was a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools, endowing the bishoprics of Cape Town and of Adelaide (1847), and founding the bishopric of British Columbia (1857). Among her many educational endowments may be specified the St Stephen’s Institute in Vincent Square, Westminster (1846); she started sewing schools in Spitalfields when the silk trade began to fail; helped to found the shoe-black brigade; and placed hundreds of destitute boys in training-ships for the navy and merchant service. She established Columbia fish market (1869) in Bethnal Green, and presented it to the city, but owing to commercial difficulties this effort, which cost her over £200,000, proved abortive. She supported various schemes of emigration to the colonies; and in Ireland helped to promote the fishing industry by starting schools, and providing boats, besides advancing £250,000 in 1880 for supplying seed to the impoverished tenants. She was devoted to the protection of animals and prevention of cruelty, and took up with characteristic zeal the cause of the costermongers’ donkeys, building stables for them on her Columbia market estate, and giving prizes for the best-kept animals. She helped to inaugurate the society for the prevention of cruelty to children, and was a keen supporter of the ragged school union. Missionary efforts of all sorts; hospitals and nursing; industrial homes and refuges; relief funds, &c., found in her a generous supporter. She was associated with Louisa Twining and Florence Nightingale; and in 1877–1878 raised the Turkish compassionate fund for the starving peasantry and fugitives in the Russo-Turkish War (for which she obtained the order of the Medjidieh, a solitary case of its conference on a woman). She relieved the distressed in far-off lands as well as at home, her helping hand being stretched out to the Dyaks of Borneo and the aborigines of Australia. She was a liberal patroness of the stage, literature and the arts, and delighted in knowing all the cultured people of the day. In short, her position in England for half a century may well be summed up in words attributed to King Edward VII., “after my mother (Queen Victoria) the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”