A NEW book traces the life and times of a mysterious benefactor whose own troubled life failed to hinder her care for others.

Local author Dr John Smith reveals the background to Lady Eliza Lumley whose bequests have benefitted thousands of people in Ryedale over the last 400 years.

He said: "Thousands of pupils have graduated from Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering and from her earlier schools in Sinnington and Thornton Dale.

"Similarly, hundreds of people have benefited from residence in her almshouses in Thornton Dale and London, yet Lady Lumley's life has been shrouded in mystery for generations."

Dr Smith, who was for 24 years a History teacher at Lady Lumley’s School before becoming Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Hull, has written over 30 articles on educational history. Th is is his fifth book tracing the life and times of Lady Lumley and revealing a woman whose own troubled life did not hinder her in her love and care for those who shared her everyday life. "What a life Lady Eliza Lumley had, all the stories that you have ever heard about Elizabethan England seem to apply to her.

"She was born in London, over 400 years ago. She was the daughter of a rich nobleman, Sir William Cornwallis, and her mother, Lucie Latimer, who had been born and raised in Snape and Sinnington in North Yorkshire and inherited vast estates up here from her father. Eliza’s family clung on to their Catholic faith under Queen Elizabeth, even though it was dangerous to do so.

"The Queen’s spies were in the household when she was a girl, reporting on the family. But it was not all dour in London at that time, and the family house was in the Theatre area, allowing the young Eliza to meet famous actors, including Ben Jonson and perhaps Will Shakespeare. She was even friends with one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot.

Dr Smith said: "Eliza herself was involved in the Great Civil War in England as her second husband, Viscount Lumley, was one of King Charles’ principal commanders.

"She herself retired to the safety of Sinnington, which she inherited from her mother. She lived out her long life here, developing a strong affection for the village.

"She died at over 80 years old, a considerable age at the time, and was buried, some say late at night to save money, in Westminster Abbey in a borrowed tomb belonging to her aunt and uncle.

"No memorial to her was ever erected there, but she left her fortune for good work. She was childless herself, but wanted a school set up for the children in the Sinnington area, as well as almshouses for the old. These became the Lady Lumley’s School and the Lady Lumley’s Almshouses that we see today at Thornton Dale. and her bequests have benefitted thousands of people in Ryedale over the last 400 years." Lady Lumley: Life and Legacy by Dr John Smith is now available at Amazon and local bookshops, price £12.99.