The Broadlands Estate in Hampshire today serves primarily as a tourist attraction, a contrast to it’s historical role as social and philanthropic hub for those who lived there. The estate lies on Southampton University’s doorstep, and the link between the two has been brought closer by the university’s campaign to raise £2.85 million to enable the estate’s historical papers to remain in the UK.

The papers cover the residencies of several families and now reside in the Broadlands Archives in the Hartley Library, providing a wealth of information for researchers. The Temple/Palmerston family was key to the local and national community through the role of the men in government, such as 3rd Viscount Palmerston. Yet whilst this importance has resulted in heavy research into the family’s men, there has been less focus on the role of the Palmerston women at Broadlands. Research undertaken by undergraduate history students from the University of Southampton has sought to rectify this imbalance by investigating Mary Mee and Emily Palmerston, wives of the second and third Viscount respectively.

Diaries and letters from the archives have proved crucial in comparing and contrasting the roles that they played at Broadlands and in the wider community from 1779 to 1869. They highlight how Mary Mee focused on using Broadlands as a family home, whilst Emily Palmerston was an unrelenting hostess who used the estate to promote her husbands political campaigns as Prime Minister. Alongside raising her family, Mary Mee used her time there to aid the local community through the creation of a school for girls nearby. In contrast, the residency of Emily Palmerston saw Broadlands as the site of dinner parties, balls and shooting parties to reinforce Lord Palmerston’s status in society.

Despite these differences however, both women had an impact that spread further than Broadlands as a domestic sphere through their philanthropic or political efforts. Whilst there were limitations on the control that women in the 18th and 19th century had over areas of their life such as education and politics, the case studies of these two women highlight how women were still able to use their position to make an impact in the public sphere.

For those wishing to learn more about this lesser known area of Broadland’s richc history, an exhibition aimed to offer further knowledge on the wider impact that these women had on the local and national community will be held at Romsey Town Hall on 9th May from 12:30.

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