Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewson, Jane

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1438026Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 33 — Lewson, Jane1893Thomas Seccombe ‎

LEWSON, JANE (1700?–1816), commonly called Lady Lewson, eccentric centenarian, was born, it is alleged, in 1700 in Essex Street, Strand, her maiden name being Vaughan. Having been left in easy circumstances by the death in 1726 of her husband, a merchant named Leveson or Lewson, she refused several suitors, and lived in the closest retirement, though she continued to keep up a large house and garden in Coldbath Square. To the end of her life, at which period she was attended by one old man-servant, she retained the gold-headed cane, the dress and the manners of the time of George I. Her terror of taking cold led her to prohibit the use of water in her house, with the result that the windows and walls became in course of time completely crusted with dirt. Her face and hands she was in the habit of lubricating with lard. Though she rigidly excluded all drugs and doctors, she enjoyed excellent health, and is said to have cut two new teeth at the age of eighty-seven. A similar story was related by Bacon of the famous Countess of Desmond [see Fitzgerald, Katherine]; an explanation of the apparent prodigy is given in a paper by Sir Richard Owen on ‘Longevity’ in ‘Fraser's Magazine’ (February 1872, p. 23). She had a retentive memory, and was fond of relating the events of 1715 and 1745. She died in Coldbath Square on 28 May 1816, at the reputed age of 116, and was buried on 3 June in Bunhill Fields. The story of her peculiarities, which was long popular, may have suggested to Charles Dickens Miss Havisham's environment in ‘Great Expectations.’

[Gent. Mag. 1816, i. 633; Wilson's Wonderful Characters, ii. 185–7 (with engraved portrait by R. Cooper); A True and Wonderful Account of Mrs. Jane Lewson, who lived to the advanced age of 116 years.]

T. S.