Eleanor (Nelly) Breeks

Eleanor Breeks (born 1838, died 1903) was a younger sister of Agnes Jane Breeks, George Moore's second wife. The following account of her appeared in an article written by Mark Blackett-Ord in The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald on 21st October 2006. Interestingly, Agnes's niece, Mary, the daughter of her sister Mary Chester, and to whom she left £1000 in her will, was married into the Blackett-Ord family*.

Warcop’s strangest portrait

The oddest picture hanging in any Westmorland church is probably the massive photogravure portrait of Eleanor Breeks in the vestry at Warcop.

Her carved oak frame made by Holland & Co., of Mount Street, Mayfair, is so heavy that it takes two men to carry. She hangs there in memory of a thwarted love affair, writes MARK BLACKETT-ORD.

Eleanor (“Nelly”) was born at Warcop in 1838. Her family were a curious blend of local yeomen farmers and rich Far Eastern traders.

Her uncle, William Wilkinson, was building the villa called Eden Gate at Warcop, and would soon be High Sheriff. Her cousins, the Dents, would be spending their wealth from China in rebuilding Skirsgill Park, near Penrith, and building Flass House at Maulds Meaburn. Her elder sister, Agnes, would marry George Moore, the philanthropic millionaire from Whitehall, near Wigton.

But not one married Nelly. The 1860s found her living with a widowed uncle in lonely comfort at 22 Cumberland Terrace, Regents Park, London. There she became acquainted with the proprietor of a new shop in Oxford Street, called John Lewis. She began to see much of him; she told him of her childhood in Warcop, and allowed him a photograph of her.

They wanted to marry. But her proud family would have nothing of this. He was a shopkeeper and it was out of the question. In the end he married elsewhere. She died a spinster in 1903 and was buried at Penrith.


The sequel came a few years after her death. At her home, Ash Bank, where a niece was now living, a motorcar arrived (a rarity in Penrith) and a man got out, leaving his wife in the car. He was John Lewis, he said, of the famous London store. He had loved Nelly, and he wanted to leave a large sum as an endowment fund to Warcop Church in her name. The condition was that her portrait should hang in the vestry for ever.

A large brass plaque in the church records a gift of £4,000 in memory of Eleanor Breeks, given anonymously, “by one who loved her”. Her portrait still hangs in the vestry, magnificently framed.

John Lewis’s gift in her memory seems to be flaunted on an unnecessary scale, as if an answer to the contempt he had suffered from her family long before.

Those who today are seeking funds for the repair of Warcop Church approached the present John Lewis Partnership and reminded them of their founder’s kindness to the church. They have responded with a generous donation; so generous, in fact, that they have asked the sum is kept confidential.


Whitfield Hall is the home of the Blackett-Ord family. The Manor of Whitfield was granted, in the twelfth century, by King William of Scotland to the Whitfield family, who retained it until 1750 when it was sold to William Ord of Fenham. When a later William Ord died in 1855, the estate fell to his son's widow and then to her heir, her niece, who married Rev John Blackett, a son of Christopher Blackett of Wylam. As a condition of the marriage and inheritance he changed his name to Blackett-Ord in a similar way to that the William Parkin the younger was obliged to change his name to William Parkin-Moore in order to benefit under the terms of his Great Uncle, George Moore's will.

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