Laura Elizabeth McLaren [nee Pochin], Lady Aberconway was a horticulturalist and an activist for the rights of women in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
She was born at Camp Street, Broughton, Lancashire, on 14 May 1854, the daughter of two radical Liberals: the manufacturing chemist, industrialist and MP Henry Davis Pochin (born 1824, died 1895) and his wife, Agnes Pochin, [nee Heap] (born 1825, died 1908) a women's rights activist.
On 6 March 1877 she married Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren (born 1850, died 1934), then a barrister, who later became Liberal MP for Bosworth in 1892.
In 1895 she inherited most of her father's property, including the Bodnant estate above the River Conwy in Wales.
It was following the additional work on the borders and terraces at Bodnant carried out by her and by her son, Henry Duncan McLaren (born 1879, died 1953), with whom she worked in partnership and to whom, in 1901, she entrusted the day to day maintenance of the garden, that the gardens at Bodnant really acquired their fame.
She was a keen gardener and a lover of herbaceous plants and native flora and is known to have also designed garden terraces at Golden Grove, Flintshire, Wales, which her father had bought in 1877, and a garden at a villa she owned, the Château de la Garoupe, in the south of France, near Antibes. She was also a noted painter in pastel.
She was a member of both the executive and financial committees of the London National Society of Women's Suffrage and its treasurer in 1885, served on the executive committee of the Central National Society for Women's Suffrage and was president of the South Kensington Women's Liberal Association.
In 1908 her pamphlet ‘Better and happier’: an answer from the Ladies' Gallery to the speeches in opposition to the Women's Suffrage Bill, February 28, 1908 was published and in 1909 she penned The Woman's Charter of Rights and Liberties—Preliminary Draft for the presentation to all world parliaments in 1910 for the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.
In 1911 her husband was ennobled as 1st Baron Aberconway. She became Baroness Aberconway on 21 June.
By 1913 she had become a vice-president of the National Political League for Men and Women. In this year her The Prime Minister and Women's Suffrage:Criticism of Mr. Asquith's Speech in the Debate of May 6th, 1913, on Mr. Dickinson's Bill to Confer the Parliamentary Franchise upon Women was published.
She ran a nursing home for officers in her London home, 43 Belgrave Square, during the First World War. For this action she was appointed C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire ) in 1918 and made D.G.St.J. (Dame of Grace, Order of St. John of Jerusalem).
After the war, after the suffrage issue was resolved, she carried on her interest in women's rights as a member of the Open Door Council.
She died at the Château de la Garoupe on 4 January 1933 and was buried at the Bodnant mausoleum, The Poem. She was described in her obituary in The Times (12 January 1933) as ‘a capable woman of business, with the ready grasp and the courageous power of decision that enabled her to weigh big problems with the brain of a man’ and as one of the greatest horticulturists in Europe.
Crawford, Elizabeth, ‘McLaren, Laura Elizabeth, Lady Aberconway (1854–1933)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/58228> [accessed 3 January 2008]
McLaren, Laura Elizabeth, The Woman's Charter of Rights and Liberties—Preliminary Draft (London: J. Sewell, 1909) <http://www.archive.org/details/womenscharterofr00aberuoft> [accessed 3 January 2008]
Mosley, Charles, editor, Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, 2 volumes (Crans, Switzerland: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 1999), volume 1, p. 3.