The Lady in the Sticks

by Sheldon

We mostly live in streets and houses that have had occupants before us. Examining it more closely, the world in which these people lived was a much smaller place. Other than commuting for work, most of the people in Bromley would have quietly bimbled around this sleeply little town in Kent, visiting Kennedy’s for cuts of meat, or John King’s tailors and outfitters for a new suit or the Royal Bell Hotel for refreshment.

I’m often fascinated when walking amongst the headstones to see the places people came from. In an age where transport wasn’t quite as smooth (ahem) as it is now, I’m often amazed to see the distances some of the bodies must have travelled before ending up in their final resting place.

This is particularly relevant to the headstone of a member of the aristocracy I saw upon visiting St Luke’s Cemetery in Bromley.


St Lukes fulfilled the role as local Cemetery for the local people, although originally it was built to provide a resting place for the parishioners of the church with which the Cemetery shares its name. Created in the 1880’s as a daughter Church to that of the Parish Church, it catered for the population boom the area known as Bromley Common experienced as a result of the railways arriving in the town in 1858. The problem was that St Luke’s was built in an intense development of terraced and semi-detached houses – there was no space for a Churchyard to inter its dead. So in 1894, a mile or so away, land was purchased to solve this problem.

It’s still a working Cemetery, although more or less full, and manicured as it was when it first opened its red iron gates all those years ago. Visibly, an awful lot of the monuments listed where people lived or died. The usage for parishioners was obviously speedily dropped as peoples residences range from Shortlands, West Wickham and in one case, Hounslow.


Unusual headstone…!

On the edge of the central path, an inscription caught my eye. 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’.


I surmised that Poltalloch was in Scotland, and a quick look on Google for Barnadiston told me that it was near Saffron Waldon. Both those places are miles apart, and intriguingly, Lady Malcolm was too, buried in the backwaters of Bromley in a very functional Cemetery. Why did she end up here if she had estates in two different parts of the country?

Suddenly it was like Montague Fowler was nudging me, saying ‘right you’ve done enough about me, what’s this woman about?’. I found a shady spot and my iPhone braced itself for another bout of research. Lady Malcolm was the second wife of John Wingfield Malcolm, 1st Baron Malcolm, who was a British soldier and MP for Boston & Argyllshire. John Malcolm was known for playing Football in the first unofficial England vs Scotland International as one of two MP’s: the other was the son of Gladstone.

This was Lady Malcolm’s second marriage too: her first husband was a gentleman by the name of H. Gardner Lister. Her marriage to John Malcolm was short-lived: he died five years after their wedding in 1902. Lady Malcolm remained a widow until her own passing in 1927.

Her headstone is impressive but not as much as the estates she left behind. Poltalloch House, ancestral home of the Clan of Malcolm, stands as a ruin and is listed as a building at risk unless serious investment is secured to save it from crumbling. I presume it was too costly for the family to maintain but it was here that Lady Malcolm would have lived. Her Suffolk residence, the one that probably would have originated in her own family, is now Barnadiston Hall Preparatory School.

It was then that I tried to look for an image of her. It was a shot in the dark and I remember how much I had to dig to find an image of our friend the Reverend. But it seems Lady Malcolm was well known in society and her legacy was a little bit easier to unearth.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This image is from the Lafayette archive. Lafayette’s was a very prestigious photographic studio that started out in Dublin, and had premises in New Bond Street. Lady Malcolm was ‘summoned to attend’ this session and was dressed in ‘soft white satin whilst holding a posy of yellow Irises. Such beauty and elegance, but how did she end up in Bromley? She didn’t seem like the kind of woman who’d frequent Kennedy’s, John King’s Tailors or the Royal Bell Hotel.

To be continued!

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


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