Gibbs, Frances Cerjat Kenneth, née Mackenzie
1754 – 1 May 1843
Frances Mackenzie married Vicary Gibbs in 1784 and their only daughter Maria was born the following year. They had a London home in Bloomsbury Square but set up a country residence in Hayes by 1790 and moved to Hayes Court in 1797. As her husband’s career advanced the responsibility for the running of the household and entertainment fell more and more on her shoulders.
She was also keen to improve the accommodation and additions were made, particularly from 1803 when she took charge of her sister Helen’s children after their mother died. From 1809 she became their sole guardian, a role which bought her both pain and pleasure. In future years her eldest niece Marianne became her constant companion and her nephew Charles inherited Castle Fraser in Scotland from where he would send her gifts of grouse and venison. However, his military career caused her considerable worry, especially after the siege of Burgos 1812 where he was shot in the knee and subsequently had his leg amputated. Lady Gibbs made special arrangements to accommodate him and his man servant Phillips when they first returned to Hayes Court, ensuring that they had the use of rooms on the ground floor. While Marianne and Charles turned out to be gifted, intelligent and hardworking the other two children Helen and Frederick were wild and extravagant causing their aunt considerable worry.
She also had to cope with a very irritable husband particularly when he was involved in politics and after he became Attorney General under the Portland Government. She was politically astute and correspondence from the time asks for her view on the political scene ‘as she is a great politician.’ In 1810 she was very anxious when her husband faced the Bristol Rioters before the opening of the Assizes where placards appeared everywhere saying ‘No Gibbs, Down with Gibbs’. Once he had returned to being a judge there was a distinct change in his demeanour Writing to her nephew Charles: ‘You will be surprised at the great improvements the Judgeship has made to your Uncle. He is become Gay and Lively, and dines like the Gents at six o’clock – quite a different person from the Attorney General —- I expect you will be astonish’d at his amazing agreeabilities’.
A disappointment for Frances was that after her daughter’s marriage to Andrew Pilkington she felt that she saw little of her. Her son-in-law had a very successful military career becoming a Lieutenant General and a Knight Commander of the Bath. However, for whatever reason, Maria’s visits were always short and Lady Gibbs referred to him as ‘Maria’s tyrant’. There are two sides in any relationship and there is no doubt that Lady Gibbs was a forthright and determined woman. She even confused the census enumerator in 1841 by using her name Kenneth rather than Frances. In her will she left most of her assets to Maria for her use and not that of her husband’s. It is interesting that Andrew Pilkington, Maria and their two daughters, Maria & Louisa, were all at Hayes Court on census day in 1841.
Towards the end of her life Frances wrote, ‘ I am growing very old & lame & deaf ..but my life has been long and as happy as most in this changeful world.’
Although their London property was sold after Sir Vicary’s death she continued to own and look after some 22 acres, her main house and 5 cottages. She bought the old Hayes workhouse when it was no longer required after the setting up of the Bromley Union Workhouse. Hayes Grove was rented out and given to her niece Marianne Fraser for her lifetime. She also took a 99 year lease on a newly erected building on Hayes Common, Woodside Cottage, which she provided for Frances Helen Banks. In her will she left Frances Banks an annuity of £75 and said that she was to live there rent free for the rest of her life.
The will, written in 1832, had six codicils by the time of her death in 1843 as various beneficiaries died before her. She was able, however, to leave £30 to her housekeeper Sarah Pring (who died a year later) and £10 for out-pensioners at Chelsea Hospital.
She left instructions that there should be no excessive expenditure on her funeral and that the pall bearers should be from her own labourers and parishioners. She wished to be interred in the same vault in Hayes Churchyard as her late husband Vicary Gibbs.