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  • Writer's pictureSheldon Goodman

Who Was Lady Marie?

Lady Marie. She’s long been a fascination because…well, because where she was laid to rest just simply doesn’t add up.

Tucked into a former council estate that just touches on the woodland part of Bromley, is St. Luke’s Cemetery.


Originally  built to provide a resting place for the parishioners of the church with which the cemetery shares its name (a rather beautiful brick and stone number on the A21) in 1894; it opened as the original parish church was no longer big enough (or near enough) to cope with the growth of what is now London’s largest borough.

It welcomed not only local parishioners but the wider residents of Bromley. Here we have a former mayor of Blackpool, a chairman of the Prudential Assurance Company and the founder of the Selfridge’s of India as well as a beautiful bronze angel of London commemorating a family who rivalled Sainsbury’s. Good company then for the lady whose grave has had me scratching my head for years.

The monument itself was fairly unremarkable in comparison to its neighbours and bore the inscription of ‘Marie Lilian, the Lady Malcolm of Poltalloch and Barnadiston Hall, Haverhill, Suffolk’.


Who was she?

Google! Beloved Google. Type her name into the search bar and a magnificent image of her comes up. The below image is from the Lafayette archive. Lafayette’s was a very prestigious photographic studio that courted the rich and well to do, primarily after Queen Victoria made them her as ‘HM’s Photographer in Dublin’ in 1887; expansion in the 1890’s saw branches open in Manchester and Glasgow as well as Bond Street, where Marie would have been photographed. Lady Malcolm was ‘summoned to attend’ this session and was dressed in ‘soft white satin whilst holding a posy of yellow irises’.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Malcolm was the second wife of John Wingfield Malcolm, 1st Baron Malcolm of the clan Malcolm, whose family made afortune from sugar, rum, cattle and another unfortunate export from the West Indies, which I’ll touch upon later.


John Wingfield Malcolm, MP for Boston & Argyllshire. From the British Newspaper Archive

He was a British soldier and MP for Boston & Argyllshire; well known for playing football in the first unofficial England vs Scotland International as one of two MP’s: the other was the son of then Prime Minister William Gladstone. He was also allegedly the tallest MP in the House of Commons and was known for his own breed of Highland cattle.

It appears that her first husband was an American gentleman by the name of H. Gardner Lister. One can guess with fair certainty that she was American too, although there is practically nothing on her earlier life that I can find online. Her marriage to John W. Malcolm was short-lived: he died five years after their wedding, in 1902. Lady Malcolm remained a widow until her own passing in 1927. John’s father, also a John, to this day has left a massive mark on museums as his collection of Old Masters is now in the British Library as a collection all of its own. 

Sounds like she was fairly well off.

Sir William Joynson Hicks, mostly known as ‘Jix’ was Home Secretary and a close friend

She seemed to have been fairly typical as a member of the aristocracy. She is reported as being a huge animal lover; being actively involved with the ‘Friends of Dumb Animals’ league even chairing meetings for the Society of Pit Ponies; once travelling to Yorkshire to gift a young man who risked his own life in saving the life of a pony that somehow got itself into danger. As typified by her dress, she was quite the socialite too – entertaining various politicians and other hoi polloi types in functions and dinners at places like the Ritz up to a few weeks before her death.

Poltalloch House, the ancestral home of her husband’s family, stands as a ruin and is listed as a building at risk unless serious investment is secured to save it from crumbling into a pile of unsalvagable rubble. I presume it was too costly for the family to maintain (it seems the Malcolms held extensive plantations in Jamaica; upon abolition the 12th Malcolm filed 11 seperate claims of compensation to the state and received compensation which amounted to £4.8 million in today’s money) indeed but it was here that Lady Malcolm would have lived.

Her Suffolk residence is now Barnadiston Hall Preparatory School which she leased out to the YMCA in 1917.

Poltalloch House, Kilmartin, Argyll cost the equivalent of �10m to build as the family flexed its wealth and prestige - but now the property stands an empty shell. PIC: Creative Commons.

Poltalloch Hall, built by her husband’s father in the 1830’s. Now, abandoned and a building at risk

From what I can glean she seemed to live most of her life in Mayfair, especially the hotels around St. George’s Hanover Square. Money was of no object to her so this was a lifestyle that she could easily afford; in her will she leaves her entire wealth to charitable causes. Her legacy of £55,000 would be roughly worth £3.4 million today.

So…why on earth is she here?

Honestly? I don’t know and it’s driving me crazy. Mayfair and Bromley certainly aren’t neighbours and her grave betrays the lifestyle she once would have enjoyed. All on her own, miles away from her home, sans husband, with scant detail of her life online, other than saying that she was once married to an American and was an animal lover.

I’ve ordered her death certificate to see if there are any clues on there but I’m be intruiged to find out more about her.

My thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum for giving me permission to use the image of Lady Malcolm.

#London #Bromley #StLukesCemetery #Scotland #Suffolk #Mayfair #Municipal #Barnadiston #Poltalloch

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