Obituary: Dame Margaret Wakehurst
Saturday 27 August 1994
MARGARET WAKEHURST was for much of her life active in the field of mental health. While her husband, John, second Lord Wakehurst, was Governor of Northern Ireland from 1952 to 1964, she founded the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health , in 1959, with its headquarters in Belfast. It contained a club for members (the first of many) called 'Beacon House', inspired by her wish: 'I want a name suggesting light.' (In 1986 she was invited back there to see the great progress.) She was also a founder member of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, and its President from 1984 to 1986.
She was born Margaret Tennant at Glen, the Peebles-shire seat of her father, the industrialist Sir Charles Tennant, Bt, on his 76th birthday, 4 November 1899. Sir Charles had already produced 12 children by his first marriage, the youngest of whom was 34 when Peggy was born. Three more daughters followed, including Kay, later Baroness Elliot of Harwood, one of the first life peeresses, who died in January. Because of the great number of generations within the Tennant family, Peggy and her sister Kay were the great-aunts of the late Ann Fleming and Laura, Duchess of Marlborough. A six-generation photograph of the family was taken in the 1980s. Peggy's mother was Marguerite Miles, who, in widowhood, married Major Geoffrey Lubbock.
In the Tennants' London house in Grosvenor Square there were many fine pictures by Constable, Reynolds and others. At the birth of Peggy's youngest sister, Nancy (later Lady Crathorne), a friend congratulated Sir Charles: 'Another work of art by an old master'. Servants had more influence than Peggy's family and one nanny made a point of telling her she was plain. After her father's death in 1906 her mother lived at Broadoaks in Byfleet, in Surrey, and at 31 Lennox Gardens, which was later to be her life-long home.
Her mother's remarriage was at first resented though Peggy was fond of two half-brothers, Peter and David Lubbock. She was educated at home, and read and recited a lot. But her childhood was a gloomy affair, and made sadder when her handicapped sister Jean died aged 12, and she did not even know where she was buried. Childhood was also made sinister by her mother's involvement with a man of the occult, Count Hamond, who persuaded her to invest a lot of money that was soon lost. During the war Peggy was briefly at school, and later she helped as a Red Cross volunteer. After the war she came out, and was presented at court. Her mother encouraged the sisters to be independent. They had their own bank accounts from 18 onwards.
Social life did not interest her much, nor did she have the training to be a doctor, which she would have enjoyed. In 1918 she met John Loder, a shy man of whom she wrote: 'His appearance was rather startling, with his auburn hair and a deep sunburn from his years in the Middle East during the war.' He was then in the Foreign Office, and they became friends. With him she learnt about art, theatre and music. He proposed during a walking tour on the Isle of Skye the following year.
They were married in 1920 and had a daughter and three sons. They lived at her home in Lennox Gardens, a five-storey house, which they supported jointly on his pay and her allowance, and in the early years of their marriage travelled extensively.
Loder was elected Conservative MP for East Leicester in 1924. He was defeated in the 1929 Election, but was returned for Lewes in 1931. In 1936 he succeeded his father as second Lord Wakehurst, at which point he gave up politics and served as Governor of New South Wales from 1937 to 1946. Peggy Wakehurst was a great success in Australia, as she loved people and succeeded in striking a good balance between her duties and family life.
The next years were spent working with the Order of St John, of which Wakehurst was Lord Prior, and for the English-Speaking Union. One St John's trip they made was to Hollywood to invest the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Margaret Wakehurst joined the Committee of the Victoria League of the British Commonwealth. Dame Ninette de Valois involved her with the Ballet Benevolent Society, and she also served on the executive committee of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
Lord Alanbrooke, the first choice, having been appointed Minister of Defence, Lord Wakehurst was appointed Governor of Northern Ireland in 1952. He and his wife made a formidable team, bringing considerable activity to Government House. She was particularly popular, and held little regard for precedent or protocol in her endeavours. 'We ran Government House more like any English country house,' she wrote.
Peggy Wakehurst was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1965, the year after they retired from Northern Ireland. She also held the rare honour of Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1960), and received an honorary LLD from Queen's University, Belfast (1957). Following her husband's death in 1970, she chose to be known as Dame Margaret Wakehurst.
In widowhood she continued to live in Lennox Gardens, the inspiring grandmother of many loving descendants, and was latterly blind. With the help of a collaborator she produced in 1989 a privately printed volume of memoirs, In a Lifetime Full . . . .
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