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© copyright Kevin Quick

Mary Dickenson [née Hamilton] (c. 1756 - 1816), courtier and diarist

Mary provides a link between Leighton Buzzard and Horatio Nelson. She was born in 1756 and was the only child of Charles and Mary Hamilton. Her father was a soldier and son of Lord Archibald Hamiton, and the grandson of the thrid Duke Hamilton. Her mother Mary, was the daughter of Colonel Dufresne, aide-de-camp of Lord Archibald Hamilton.

The family originally lived in Scotland, but moved in 1764 to a house near Northampton that they renamed Hamilton House. From an early age Mary showed an interest in literature. Mary was an avid reader, as well as keeping a diary and corresponding regularly with many friends.

After her fathers death, the family remained in Northamptonshire, until 1775 when they moved to London. In 1777 she was invited to court by Queen Charlotte, and became third lady to the young princesses. She remained in this post until 1782, spending her time between Kew, Windsor and St. James's Palace.

She moved early in 1783 to 27 Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London, sharing the property with two friends and she enjoyed a wide circle of literary acquaintances.

On the 13th June 1785 Mary was married to John Dickenson. John was the only son of John Dickenson of Birch Hall, near Manchester. The couple had actually first met many years before when John visited Hamilton House while at boarding school in Northamptonshire. Subsequent to their marriage, John and Mary settled in Taxal, near Chapel-le-Firth, Derbyshire. They had their only child in 1787: a daughter named Louisa.

In 1797 the family moved to Leighton House, Leighton Buzzard and remained here until 1811 when they moved to 32 Devonshire Place, London.

The period during which Mary was in Leighton Buzzard corresponds with the period in which Nelson became a national hero, with his victories at the Battle of the Nile, Copenhagen and finally at the Battle of Trafalgar. Central to Nelson's story is Emma Hamilton, who became his mistress. In 1791, prior to meeting Nelson, Emma had married the widowed, Sir William Hamilton who was envoy at the court of Naples. Sir William was Mary Dickenson's uncle, and hence Emma had become her aunt through the marriage.

Mary died on 25th May 1818 at her house in London. Extracts of her letters and diaries were published in 1925 by her great-grandchildren, Elizabeth and Florence Anson. Additionally, the diaries and journals of John Dickenson are held at the Lancashire Record Office.

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