When travelling back to his vast Norfolk estate in the early 19th century, Sir Thomas Hare lost a ring dedicated to his beloved wife Ann who died in the “prime of life”.
The mourning ring remained buried in the grounds of Devizes Castle in the county of Wiltshire for 140 years before being unearthed by Janet Hollingworth in the 1970s.
Miss Hollingworth kept the ring for 40 years before managing to trace Lady Rose Hare, the current custodian of the Hare estate, in Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market.
Now, some 180 years after it was lost, Lady Hare has revealed the amazing story behind it, as well as a compelling letter written by Ann two weeks before her untimely death in 1823.
Lady Hare said: “I couldn’t believe it when Miss Hollingworth contacted me about the ring. It is fantastic to have it back where it belongs after such a long time.
“We are not sure whether Sir Thomas was on his way back from visiting his Ann’s father or brother who both lived in the south west of the country.
“But what I have found out is that Devizes Castle was a popular stop-off point for people travelling from afar in the 19th century and that would explain why he lost it there.
“I have found this to be an extraordinary tale because the ring was buried for so long before Miss Hollingworth found it who then kept hold of it for 40 years before tracking me down.
“I have also found a few letters that Ann wrote to her children and together with the mourning ring, really adds another few pieces to the jigsaw of the Hare family history.”
Among the letters was one written by Ann to her son, Thomas, on August 30, 1823 – ahead of an operation and two weeks before she died.
Within the letter she advises her son to respect his father, be a parent to his “unfortunate” sister and warns him against a love of wine and women.
Lady Hare continued: “From all the letters I have found she appears to have been a very loving mother and wife.
“It seemed they were a very happy family from the letters and her death must have been really hard on the family as her son and daughter were only teenagers.
“For Sir Thomas, this was also the second wife he lost after his first wife Mary Geary died in 1801.”
She added: “In the letter written to her son before she died, it is clear Ann was worried about his future knowing she might not survive her operation.
“We don’t know what the operation was for or what it was she had but she clearly was worried about it and wanted to give her son some advice to help him in the future.”
Explaining how she found the ring, Miss Hollingworth, 64, who still lives in Devizes, said: “I was about 20 and working at a conifer nursery near Devizes Castle when I found the ring after doing a bit of digging.
“It was a lovely ring and was still in excellent condition when I found it and just needed some dirt washing off.
“At the time I took it to the museum in Devizes and they told me they had no record of a Lady Hare so I kept hold of it and it stayed in dishes and jewellery boxes for years.”
Miss Hollingworth said some former neighbours then helped her research Ann, the Hare family and track down Lady Hare.
She continued: “I was very happy to have handed the ring over. I really wanted it to go back to the family and Lady Hare was so pleased to have it returned to the family.”
Sir Thomas Hare and Ann Graves married in January 1803. Sir Thomas died aged 83 years in 1834, 11 years after Ann passed away. Ann was the daughter of Admiral Thomas Graves, 1st Lord of Gravesend, who fought in the American War of Independence.