National Civil War Centre

Volunteer Insights - Sandra

"One of my favourite items in the Newark Gallery is the portrait of Lady Ossington, but that was only after I learnt a little about the background of this woman. There are three reasons why this painting has become special to me.

Firstly I love a good ghost story and the painting is very much associated with one. Secondly I very much admire people who, when they feel strongly about something, put their feelings into positive actions and Lady Ossington certainly did that. Last, but definitely not least, the building which this lady was responsible for is one of the most beautiful and iconic in Newark, and is often commented on by visitors.

For those who don’t know the story about Lady Ossington she was the force behind the building which is now Zizzi’s. This was built in 1882 and was Lady Ossington’s attempt to free the inhabitants of Newark from the temptations of alcohol. Lady Ossington was a member of the Temperance movement and built the Ossington Coffee Palace as a place where people could meet and enjoy themselves without having to drink. It was a large building with several rooms, a library, accommodation and stabling for forty horses. Lady Ossington paid for and oversaw the building and some say that there was a bottle containing a letter expressing Lady Ossington’s wish that alcohol would never be served on the premises buried under the foundation stone. The building cost £25000 which was a substantial sum even for someone with Lady Ossington’s wealth. Her portrait, the one now in the museum, was placed in a prestigious position inside the coffee palace.

We can only imagine what Lady Ossington would have thought when, almost a hundred years later, her building, now a restaurant, started to serve alcohol. Is it any wonder that her portrait (still hanging on the wall at the time) suddenly leapt off in protest? That bottles mysteriously fell off the shelves and smashed? That beer barrels ran dry? Or that footsteps were heard going up and down the stairs? Workmen brought in to work on the building claimed their tools were moved in the night.

How many of these stories are true and how many a result of wishful thinking or overactive imaginations we will never know. What we can be sure of is that Lady Ossington left Newark with a beautiful building which adds a lot to the appeal of the town; and also left a cracking good ghost story. It is stories like these which bring museum pieces to life, and make people really look at them, rather than walk past. Knowing the story makes the woman in the painting a very real human being. Clearly a very strong minded human being; possibly even from beyond the grave!" - Sandra, National Civil War Centre Volunteer