The remarkable marquis

WE WERE FORTUNATE that we met a lady who unlocked (specially for us) the parish church of Saint John the Baptist with Our Lady and Saint Laurence in Thaxted, Essex. It was during our recent visit to the town in April 2021, when many churches tended to be kept closed most of the time. We were even luckier because this kind lady spent time with us, showing us the many interesting features within the building. Amongst these she pointed out: a cupboard colourfully painted with an Italian baroque design; an unusual lectern, also richly coloured; a decorative corona suspended from the ceiling of a southern aisle, and another above a figure next to the high altar. She told us that all these objects were made by the Marquis d’Oisy (1880-1959), who used to live in a cottage near Thaxted, an interesting man. My curiosity about the Marquis was aroused and after returning home, I looked for something about him on the Internet and found an informative article about the fellow, written by Julian Litten and published in “Saffron Walden Historical Journal”, issue number 24, Autumn 2012. Mr Litten has also recently published a book about the Marquis, which I have not yet seen.

A painted corona by the Marquis d’Oisy in Thaxted Church

The 37-year-old Marquis arrived in Essex in the summer of 1917. He settled in Plegdon Green, which is close to the present Stansted Airport and just over 4 miles south west of Thaxted. He lived out the rest of his life in Plegdon. He called himself ‘Amand Edouard Ambroise Marie Lowis Etienne Phillipe d’Sant Andre Tournay, Marquis d’Oisy’, and claimed to have been born in Rio de Janeiro. However, the so-called Marquis was neither an aristocrat nor born in South America.

It is most likely that the Marquis was born in Bath (England). Julian Litten’s research suggests that most likely the Marquis was born ‘Ambrose E Merchant’ the son of Ambrose C Merchant, a gasfitter, and his wife Alice Merchant (née Thomas) in Bath. When he grew up, the Marquis often used the name ‘Ambrose Thomas’.  

By 1901, Ambrose Thomas (aka the Marquis) was living at Caldey Priory (near Tenby in Wales) where he was a Benedictine Monk. In 1902, he left the Order and most probably worked as a navvy, digging the Northern Line tunnels for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. He did not keep this job for long.  Until 1915, when he was working for a church furnishers’ company, Louis Grossé, as a vestment maker at St Saviours Church in London’s Hoxton, his life remains a mystery. It is not impossible that he spent some of the time learning the artistic skills that he was employ later in life.

The cottage that the Marquis moved into in 1917 was part of the estate at Plegdon owned by the silent-film screen actress Irene Rook, whom he could possibly have met if, as Litten suggested, he might have had some employment designing or manufacturing theatrical sets for films. By then, the Marquis was producing decorative wares such as the things he made, which we admired in the church in Thaxted. Litten suggested that Ambrose Thomas might have adopted the seemingly posh name Marquis d’Oisy whilst working at Louis Grossé but cannot be certain of this.

During WW1, there was a shortage of work for the Grossé company. This was probably the reason that the Marquis left in 1917 and came to live rent-free in Irene Rook’s cottage. It is likely that Irene Rook had bought things made by the Marquis and felt sorry for him when he faced unemployment in 1917. On arrival in Plegdon, Litten noted:

“At first, the locals were afeared of him, some even taking him to be a spy, attributing his exotic apparel of long cloak and floppy-brimmed hat as being more French than English. With money being in very short supply, he kept a cow tethered on the green for the sake of its milk, as well as a goat, and he grew edible flowers, fruits and herbs to keep the cost of his groceries down. He also kept two elegant greyhounds, and always slept in the open, whatever the weather, on the first-floor balcony of his cottage. Now that in itself points towards the probability of him having TB.”

Few of those who knew him well after he moved to Essex found it easy to believe that Ambrose was truly aristocratic. The film director Basil Dean (1888-1978), who lived near him, wrote of the Marquis:

“Lady Warwick used to say he came not from any foreign land but from the East End of London. He was a strange creature altogether, very tall and thin, emaciated almost, with a squeaky voice and a chin beard; and obvious homosexual … artist-antiquarian, vegetarian, and decorator – extraordinary of cottage replacements of period furniture to Lady Warwick. We owed to him much of our knowledge of Little Easton Manor’s history, all of our discovery of its foundations, and enthusiastic guidance along the path of its restoration. A passionate student of peasant ways – a folk-artist, you might say …”

The Marquis worked with Conrad Noel (1869-1942), the left-wing vicar of Thaxted (between 1910 and his death), known as the ‘Red Vicar’, about whom I will write in the near future. In 1923, he began making some of the objects that we saw in the church, beginning with the vestment cupboard he decorated with the Italianate motifs. Noel helped the Marquis by commissioning him to paint and/or create the following items as listed by Litten:

“…the lectern, the niche and statue of St Lawrence, the decorative carving on the reredos in the Becket Chapel, and commissioning two painted pewter coronas for the Lady Chapel and one for the statue of Our Lady as well as a band of identical cresting for the High Altar …”

We were shown some of these items by the lady who kindly let us enter the spacious, light-filled Perpendicular-style church, which was mostly built between the 14th and 16th centuries.

As well as his work at Thaxted church, the Marquis did extensive restoration work at Basil Dean’s Little Easton Manor and organised many folkloric pageants both in Essex and in London. Notable amongst the pageants was one organised near Thaxted in 1926 to raise money for the English Folk Dance Society who were trying to build their London headquarters in what was to become Cecil Sharp House (in London’s Regents Park Road). Music for this occasion was provided by the wife of the composer Gustav Holst, herself a composer, Imogen Holst (1907-1984). Gustav had strong associations with Thaxted and Conrad Noel, about which I plan to write. The largest event, arranged by the Marquis, was held at Hatfield House in 1936. With a cast of 600 and lasting 3 hours, the Marquis designed the costumes. The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was amongst the audience. In addition to these activities, the Marquis created painted furniture for Heals in London and Sayles in Cambridge.

Irene Rook died in 1958 and left the cottage at Plegdon to the Marquis, who was by then a very far from wealthy man. Desperately short of money, he sold the cottage for a pittance in January 1959. Suffering from prostate cancer, he was put up by his former man servant Bernard Keel in his cottage at Takely, just south of the present Stansted Airport. He died in December 1959.

I have attempted to summarise what is known about the Marquis but omitted many of the fascinating details about this remarkable man’s life, which has been well-researched by Julian Litten, whose book “The Mystery of Marquis D’oisy” was published in late 2015. Had it not been for the superb tour given us by the kind lady who admitted us to the church in Thaxted, we would have most probably remained completely ignorant of the marvellous Marquis.

Dame Jane lies stone cold in the church

HER HEAD RESTS ON her stone-cold right hand with her elbow on a carved alabaster cushion. Her left hand is held lightly and limply against her left breast. She is a carved alabaster effigy of Dame Jane Cotton (1630-1692), widow of Sir John Cotton of Landwade (1615-1689). This sculpture of Jane Cotton lies against the north wall of the chancel of the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the village of Madingley, close to Cambridge. The church is open until 4pm most days and we got there by 3.45 pm a few days ago in April 2021. So, we were able to have a good look at the interior of this building whose construction commenced in the late 13th century (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1127740).

Jane Cotton, who reclines close to the high altar, was the daughter and sole heir of Edward Hinde (c1598-1631) of the Parish of Madingley. Edward lived at Madingley Hall (www.thepeerage.com/p34969.htm#i349687), which is a few yards uphill from the church. Sir John Cotton did well by marrying Jane because by doing so, he acquired the manor of Madingley.

Sir John Hinde (or ‘Hynde’; c1480-1550; see: http://www.geni.com/people/Sir-John-Hynde-MP/6000000090158312935), Serjeant-at-Law and Member of Parliament, had been buying land at Madingley since the 1520s (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol9/pp166-171). In 1544, the manor of Madingley, which had been held by several trustees for about 100 years, was bestowed on him by law. He commissioned the building of the lovely Madingley Hall, which was constructed between 1543 and 1547. Edward Hinde, Jane Cotton’s father, was a grandson of Sir John Hinde.

Sir John left Madingley to his son Francis, who left it to his son William, who married a widow, Elizabeth. When William died childless in 1606, his widow Elizabeth took over all of the Hinde estates. She remarried and leased Madingley Hall to Edward, who was son of William Hinde’s brother Edward (died 1633).

Jane’s father Edward (died 1633) settled his lands on his eldest son Anthony, who died before him, fighting in Denmark, in 1612, when Denmark was fighting Sweden for control of part of Norway. Anne, Anthony’s widow, ‘sold’ her interests in the lands to her father-in-law Edward (died 1633). Anne and Anthony had a son Edward, to whom Anthony’s father (Edward, died 1633) had left all his lands, but the grandson, Edward, died in an accident in 1631. Jane Hinde then became the heir to her father’s lands. Had Anthony and his son not pre-deceased Jane’s father, she would not have come into possession of the Hinde’s estates, and neither would have they come into the hands of Sir John Cotton. The lands at Madingley remained in the Cotton family until the beginning of the 20th century.

Sir John, husband of Jane, was buried with his ancestors at Landwade in eastern Cambridgeshire. His daughter Jane is interred in the church at Madingley. Her monument stands near the northwest corner of the nave. She is depicted kneeling with a small book in her left hand. Jane was a spinster. She died in 1707. Not far from her monument stands a lovely carved stone font. Covered with geometric decoration, this was made in the 12th century and probably stood in an earlier version of the church. Nearby, the internal walls of the bell tower are decorated with damaged sculptures made of wood. They are:

“… probably the survivors of the cherubim, perhaps on the nave roof, whose removal William Dowsing ordered in 1644.” (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol9/pp173-176)

Although there is much to enjoy in the church at Madingley, it was Lady Jane Cotton’s reclining effigy that most sparked my curiosity. Looking into what is known of Jane’s heritage has revealed a little bit about the complexities faced by the ‘landed gentry’ when they considered who was to inherit their land.

The families mentioned are what some might describe, often expressing a sense of deference, as ‘old families’. What this means is that the family has sufficient documentary information to trace it back, maybe over many centuries, for many generations.  Well, if you think about it ‘old families’ are no different from other families because all of them must go back an awfully long way in history, even if the documentary evidence no longer exists.

Some illustrious corpses

THE ARTIST CONSTABLE is one of the best-known people to have been interred in the cemetery of St John’s, the parish church of Hampstead. His grave is in the older part of the cemetery which surrounds the church. Across the road from the church and running along the east side of Holly Walk, there is an extension of the cemetery, the Additional Burial Ground, almost completely filled with the graves of people, who died in the 19th century and later. Apart from the graves covering the gently sloping cemetery, there is a pleasant, peaceful sitting area in its south eastern corner and an attractive columbarium (containing wall-mounted memorial plaques) in its north eastern corner. For several centuries, Hampstead has attracted residents from a wide variety of walks of life, and this is can be seen by wandering around the cemetery. Several of the many gravestones attracted my interest and aroused my curiosity about the lives of the people buried beneath or beside them. I have chosen a few to write about because they were clearly notable people, but individuals about whom I knew nothing.

Thomas Frederick Tout (1853-1929) lies buried close to the Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell (1906-1963) and the Austrian born actor Anton Walbrook (1896-1967), both of whom are better remembered than Tout, who is described as “historian” on his gravestone. Born in London, Tout specialised in the history of the mediaeval era. At first, after graduating at Oxford, he taught at the University of Lampeter in Wales, then later at what was to become the University of Manchester, where he introduced the idea, an innovation, of making final year history undergraduates produce a final year thesis based on study of original sources. Just before Tout retired in 1925, he moved to Hampstead where he and his wife lived at 3 Oakhill Park until his death.

Tout lies at the bottom end of the sloping cemetery, while another academic, Randolph Schwabe (1883-1948) is interred at the top end. Schwabe was born in Eccles near Manchester. His paternal grandfather was born in Germany and migrated to England. At the age of 14, Randolph enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art (University College London) and showed great skill in drawing, painting, and etching. During WW1, he was an official war artist. Following the end of the war, he taught fine art at both the Camberwell and Westminster schools of art. In 1930, he became the prestigious Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College and then Principal of the Slade School of Fine Art. When war broke out again in 1939, he became involved in official recording of the war, receiving a special commission to document the bomb damage to Coventry Cathedral. In addition to teaching, Schwabe was a prolific book illustrator. For health reasons, he moved to Helensburgh in Dunbartonshire, where he died whilst still Principal of the Slade. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the cemetery in Hampstead where a beautiful stone sculpture of a woman with bowed head, created by Alan Durst (1883-1970) commemorates him. Schwabe lived close to the cemetery in Church Row (no. 20).

Not far from Schwabe’s monument, there is an ensemble of gravestones remembering the lives of the Matthews family. Bert Matthews (1884-1974), a local rat catcher, was Hampstead’s Pearly King for 40 years (www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/six-things-you-never-knew-about-pearly-kings-queens). In 1905, Bert married Becky in Hampstead Parish Church (https://tombwithaview.org.uk/abg-people/bert-matthews/). They lived in Perrins court. Three years before his marriage, Bert became involved in charity work. Bert and his wife became Pearly King and Queen of Hampstead. The ‘Pearlies’ dress up occasionally in clothes that have been covered with mother-of-pearl buttons and so attired, they collect money for charity. Like royalty, the Pearly Kings and Queens hand on their titles to their offspring. Although dressing up in the pearly button covered costumes is part of the fun, the Pearlies are dedicated to raising money for good charitable causes. Three generations of the Matthews family are buried near to the Holly Walk edge of the cemetery, the bodies of three generations of Hampstead’s Pearly Kings and Queens lie together. To see the Pearlies of Hampstead, watch the video on www.britishpathe.com/video/pearly-kings.

Buried close to the working-class Pearly aristocrats, we find an ostentatious monument commemorating some other aristocrats, who would not have considered themselves working-class. It is in memory of three female members of the family of Frederick Ramon de Bertodano y Wilson, 8th Marquis de Moral (1871–1955). Born in Australia, Frederick went to England in 1895, where he trained as a lawyer. He served as an officer in the British Army in southern Africa during both the Matabele War (1896-1897) and the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Then, he returned to England in 1905 (https://campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/47011). In 1907, he married Lady Ida Elizabeth Dalzell (1876-1924), who is buried in the cemetery along with their daughter Marie Stephanie Stewart (1911-2009), née de Bertodano. Frederick Ramon is not buried in Hampstead but in Harare, Zimbabwe (www.geni.com/people/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9rik-Ramon-de-Bertodano-8th-Marquis-de-Moral/6000000012386542530). He retired to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1947. I am not certain why this monument is in Hampstead. The only clue I have found is that Frederic was listed in 1906 as being a Fellow of The Royal Geographic Society living at 43 Belsize Square. However, this was before he married. Marie Stephanie’s brother Andrew was born in Hertfordshire in 1912. I would like to know more about this family’s connection to Hampstead.

The last of the graves of the many fascinating people, whose remains rest in the newer part of the cemetery of The Parish Church, records the deaths of the Llewellyn-Davies family. The barrister Arthur Llewellyn-Davies (1863-1907) married Sylvia Jocelyn Du Maurier (1866-1910), daughter of the cartoonist George Du Maurier, who is buried in the cemetery. They had five sons. After Arthur died, the family’s friend, the author JM Barrie (1860-1937) supported Sylvia and her boys financially. When she died, Barrie became one of the boys’ guardians (https://androom.home.xs4all.nl/biography/p008514.htm). Most readers will know that Barrie is famous for his book “Peter Pan” (first published 1911). Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan was Arthur and Sylvia’s son Peter (1897-1960), who is remembered along with his parents at the family grave in Hampstead. Michael Darling, another character in “Peter Pan” was based on Michael Llewellyn-Davies (1900-1921), who drowned when bathing at Oxford while he was an undergraduate student. You might be wondering about Peter Pan’s companion Wendy. It so happens that I have seen her grave, that of Margaret Henley (1888-1894), who is buried at Cockayne Hatley in Bedfordshire. Her father was a friend of JM Barrie, whom the small child Margaret referred as her “fwendy-wendy”. This caused Barrie to name his heroine Wendy.  The Du Maurier family is intimately associated with Hampstead. So, it is unsurprising to find the Llewellyn-Davies family memorial where it is.

Enough of this morbid subject. Now, you need to visit this fascinating cemetery in Hampstead to discover more for yourself. And when you have had enough of looking at the resting places of illustrious corpses or their ashes, it is but a short walk along the attractive Church Row to reach the heart of Hampstead with its numerous cafés, where you can enjoy a life-restoring beverage.

Ham and Highgate

LAUDERDALE IS A NAME, which until a few days ago I used to associate solely with Highgate in north London. Lauderdale House sits on Highgate Hill close to Waterlow Park. What you see of it today is a highly restored 18th century building that dates to 1760. Prior to that date, a finer looking timber framed house built in 1582 stood on the site. Built for the goldsmith Richard Martin (died 1617), who was Mayor of London in 1589, it was one of the finest country houses in Highgate. The present version, although acceptable aesthetically, is unremarkable. In 1645, the house became the property of John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale (1616-1682), a Scot.

Originally a supporter of Oliver Cromwell’s regime, he later became a supporter of King Charles II in 1660 soon before his restoration to the throne. During the reign of Charles II, Lauderdale held several of the highest offices in the land including Secretary of State and Lord High Commissioner. He was also involved in the Company of Royal Adventurers of England trading with Africa (founded 1663), which dealt much in slaves and gold.  

Lauderdale was first married to Lady Anne Home (1612-1671), a Scottish aristocrat. A year after Anne died, Lauderdale married Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart (1626-1698), who had been an active and important supporter of Charles II during and after his exile. Evelyn Pritchard in her book “Ham House and its owners through five centuries 1610-2006” reports that it was rumoured that she had been having an affair with Lauderdale while she was still married to her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache (1624-1669). Lauderdale’s second marriage brings us across London from Highgate to the River Thames at Ham near Richmond.

Elizabeth Murray was the first born of the four daughters of William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart (c 1600-1655) and his wife Catharine (née Bruce). Being the eldest, Elizabeth inherited her father’s title and the home he owned at Ham, Ham House.  Her father, William, acquired Ham House in 1626. During the Civil War, Elizabeth Dysart maintained good relations with both Oliver Cromwell and the exiled King Charles II and thus preserved her ownership of Ham House, where she and Tollemache produced eleven children.

The house that William took over had been built between 1608 and 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour (1560-1620), a naval captain who had fought the Spanish at sea in the late 16th century. He had been awarded his knighthood at sea in 1597. The basic structure of Ham House, an ‘H plan’ typical of the Jacobean style, has survived although over the years newer parts have been added to it particularly at the rear. Seen from the front, Ham House has retained its original attractive Jacobean appearance. The rear of the house (the south facing garden side) has lost two of the original arms of the ‘H’ because the space between them was filled with an extension created by the Lauderdales in the 1670s. Thus, the north (front) façade is Jacobean, the southern one is in the later baroque style with sash windows, which make it look much newer than it is actually.

Because of the restrictions caused by the covid19 pandemic we were only allowed to view the ground floor rooms. However, this was sufficient to see what a splendidly decorated and furnished place the Lauderdales created. Every room we saw from the grand Great Hall and the fine carved wooden staircase to the smallest closets is a wonder to behold. A couple of rooms had beautiful ceilings with paintings, one by the German Franz Cleyn (c1582-1658) born in Rostock (Germany) and died in London, and another by the Italian Antonio Verrio (c1636-1707), born in Lecce (Italy) and died at Hampton Court.

Ham House has wonderful gardens, which we explored briefly before walking back to Richmond via the water meadows that flank the Thames. For me, the highlight of the grounds of Ham House was the geometrically perfect, formal garden to the east of the house. This was originally ‘the Cherry Garden’ where cherries are known to have been grown in 1653, when it was leased to one Samuel Purnell. The National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden/features/the-garden-at-ham-house) informs us that:

“… the garden re-creates what historically ‘might have been’, following work in the 1970s to reinstate 17th century character previously lost.”

A statue of Bacchus, the only original piece of garden sculpture to have survived at Ham, stands in the heart of this perfectly manicured example of man’s influence on nature.

The National Trust received Ham House from Sir Lyonel Tollemache (born 1931) and his son Cecil Lyonel Newcomen Tollemache in 1948. The 9th Earl of Dysart (1859-1935), a descendant of William Murray, inherited Ham House in 1884 but died childless in 1935. The Dysart title passed on to his niece Wynefrede (1889-1973) whilst Ham House was passed on to his second cousin Sir Lyonel.

We left Ham House, thoroughly intrigued, and satisfied by what we had seen and hope to return a few more times. From now on, when the name ‘Lauderdale, springs to mind, I will not automatically think of my old ‘stomping ground’, Highgate, but also Ham will spring to mind. There is a local north London newspaper “The Ham and High” that covers what happens in Hampstead and neighbouring Highgate. Now. that paper’s name has assumed a new meaning for me having learned of Lauderdale’s connection with both Ham and HIGHgate.