THE bust of Lady Sybil Eden, which once graced the entrance of the Bishop Auckland hospital that bore her name, is now in pride of place in the Consett home of a woman who spent a large part of her childhood in Lady Sybil’s Windlestone mansion.

Jean Sullivan spent ten happy years at Windlestone in the 1960s and 1970s when it was a council home for delicate children and now she and her husband John collect memorabilia connected to the Eden family.

“Jean was a chronic asthmatic, and she was spending time in hospital and not able to go to school, so her doctor in Consett sent her there for fresh air and education,” says John, who is a partner in Gardiners coach repairs in Spennymoor. “It was only going to be for a few months but she ended up there for 10 years and she loved it. Her mum visited regularly and was devastated that she couldn’t come home, but the place was immaculate – the floors were polished and the gardens were manicured. It was beautiful.”

The Northern Echo: Lady Sybil Eden on the Vaterland with her companion, Lady Evelyn Grey Jones. Picture courtesy of Ian WrightLady Sybil Eden on the Vaterland with her companion, Lady Evelyn Grey Jones. Picture courtesy of Ian Wright

Lady Sybil, the mother of Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, was well known across the south Durham coalfield for her involvement in social causes and, as Memories 470 told, in 1897 she led the fund-raising campaign to provide the area with a cottage hospital. It opened in 1899 in Cockton Hill – opposite today’s general hospital – and was called the Lady Eden Hospital.

The bust appears to have been presented to the hospital by her eldest son, Sir Timothy, after Lady Eden died on June 17, 1945, because the brass plaque on it talks of perpetuating her memory.

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When the hospital closed in 1990, the bust lost its permanent home. In 2005, it was temporarily put on display in Bishop Auckland Town Hall where Jean and John went to inspect it.

“As I was leaving, the receptionist said it was only there for safe-keeping and I said that if it was ever for disposal to let me know,” says John. “Six months or a year later, I got a phone call out of the blue from the NHS saying it was available. I was very surprised.

“They’d had valuations and they asked for £700, which I paid, and I donated another £100 to the Lady Eden Trust.”

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About seven or so years ago at Windlestone, Jean and John met Sir John Eden, who had inherited the various titles from his father, Sir Timothy. Sir John, who was born in 1925, said he had a recollection of his grandmother’s bust being in the hall, which leads to the question of who carved it.

Lady Sybil was just 19 when she married Sir William in 1886 and she was regarded as one of the great beauties of the age.

The Northern Echo: COURT CASE: James McNeil Whistler's picture of society beauty Lady Sybil Eden, with her face obscured after the dispute about cashCOURT CASE: James McNeil Whistler's picture of society beauty Lady Sybil Eden, with her face obscured after the dispute about cash

Her portrait was painted on several occasions by leading artists – a couple of drawings survive by the famous American painter John Singer Sargent, and there is the well known story of how Sir William refused to pay James Whistler more than 100 guineas because he didn’t think a miniature painting was worth any more. Whistler disagreed, painted out Lady Sybil’s face which led to a long legal case which the Edens won.

So it seems possible that the bust was carved by a leading artist.

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“We know it’s made of Italian Carrara marble, and we took it along to Antiques Roadshow when it was at Durham Cathedral in the hope they could find a signature on it,” says John. The couple were filmed receiving a valuation of £1,500 to £2,000 but no further information was forthcoming and their footage was never screened.

“We’d love to know where it originated from,” says John. “It now takes pride of place in our living room and will stay with us as long as we are alive.”

IT is great to know that the bust is safe and treasured. Anne Yuill had a ringside seat working for the various versions of the NHS in Bishop Auckland as the bust searched for a new home after 1990.

It went first to Tindale Hospital and when that closed in 2002, it went to the offices of the Durham Dales Primary Care Group (PCG) in Tenters Street, Bishop Auckland.

When the PCG became the Durham Dales Primary Care Trust, it moved to offices in Henson Close, South Church, there was no room for Lady Sybil, and so the bust was loaned to Wear Valley District Council for display – and Jean and John Sullivan saw it in Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

But in 2009 the district council was taken over by the county council and the bust, which was owned by the NHS, was once more homeless until the Sullivans got a phone call…

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LORD JOHN EDEN died on May 23 at his home in Dorset, aged 94. Whereas Lady Sybil’s husband, Sir William, was the 7th Baronet of West Auckland and the 5th Baronet of Maryland (in the United States), Sir John was the 9th and the 7th Baronet.

He was the Conservative MP for Bournemouth from 1954 until 1983, and he caused trouble for his uncle, Prime Minister Anthony Eden, by demanding tougher action during the Suez crisis of the mid 1950s that brought Anthony down.

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Sir John was an industry minister under Edward Heath and a personal assistant to Margaret Thatcher.

When he retired, he was created a life peer, and took the title Baron Eden of Winton, of Rushyford in the County of Durham (where is Winton, or is it a contraction of Windlestone?).

When first elected, he was aged 28 and the youngest MP in the House; at the time of his death, he was the oldest former MP.

His son, the Honourable Sir Robert Frederick Calvert Eden, who is the great-grandson of Lady Sybil, has just become the 10th Baronet of West Auckland.

THE Eden family built Windlestone Hall in 1835 on the site of a 16th Century manor house. The new property was designed by the renowned Durham architect, Ignatius Bonomi to a sumptuous standard.

It even had an icehouse in a wooded area near the A689, but it appears to have been cleared.