Tributes paid to Georgina Saunders Watson who helped transform Rockingham Castle

She was the admiral's daughter who fell in love with a sailor and together inherited a castle

Monday, 18th January 2021, 7:05 am

A woman who was half of the husband and wife team who inherited and managed Northamptonshire's most iconic castle and estate has died at the age of 85 after a short illness.

Georgina Saunders Watson was living in a cottage in Hampshire, bringing up three children and happily married to a navy officer when the young family were relocated to rural Rockingham.

Alongside husband Commander Michael Saunders Watson, the pair worked to transform the castle into a family home and tourist attraction - even serving refreshments in the castle tea rooms.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Born Georgina Elizabeth Laetitia Davis in London on December 23, 1935, she was the eldest daughter of Admiral Sir William Davis and his wife the former Lady Elizabeth Phipps, daughter of the 3rd Marquis of Normanby.

Eldest son James Saunders Watson, current Lord Lieutenant for Northamptonshire, said: "My parents met in Malta in 1956 when my father was serving in the Royal Navy.

"They married in December 1958 and settled down to the ebb and flow of service life, living in Hampshire, Dartmouth and Bermuda and becoming a mother to her three children - James, Fiona and David.

"In 1971 they moved to Rockingham Castle, when my father Michael inherited the estate from his uncle Sir Michael Culme-Seymour.

Georgina Saunders Watson in the Rockingham Castle Tea Rooms

"This was quite a change from the cottage they owned in Hampshire, which could be fitted into the Great Hall.

"Asked at the time what was the main change, she was heard to remark “what a luxury to have fitted carpets and central heating’."

"This was so typical of someone who was so modest, she had no airs and graces and loved talking to anyone, whoever they were."

The family set about modernising the estate and expanding the visitor experience.

Mrs Saunders Watson was passionate about horses

James said: "At Rockingham she threw herself into developing the house opening operation, running the tea rooms with support from the ladies in the village, the gardens and developing the gift shop.

"On open days she was front of house in the tea rooms and one wonders how many of the visitors realise they were being served by the Chatelaine."

Mrs Saunders Watson became very involved in a number of local charities including Riding for the Disabled, Macmillan Nurses and the RNLI as well as being a volunteer at Kettering General Hospital.

In 1999 she and Michael moved to Stoke Albany when he handed the Rockingham estate onto James.

Michael and Georgina Saunders Watson

He added: "She loved spending time with her grandchildren, following her horse Elsa around the country as she competed, firstly, in eventing and latterly in dressage competitions.

"It was only a couple of days before she was admitted to hospital that she had seen Elsa win two competitions at Keysoe and qualify for the regionals.

"Georgina's kindness and good humour always accompanied with a wonderful smile or chuckle will be remembered by many.

She is survived by her husband Commander Michael Saunders Watson and children and her grandchildren.

A private funeral service will be held at Rockingham's St Leonard's Church on Tuesday, January 19, followed by an interment.

Georgina Saunders Watson