Obituary: Lady Jane Heaton

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The Independent Online
Jane Butler, born 9 January 1925, married 1945 Peter Heaton (one son; marriage dissolved 1952), died London 22 October 1992.

JANE HEATON was the sort of person about whom stories were told and repeated - even by people who didn't know her; she was a renowned beauty, well-born and accomplished, and a celebrated hostess, both in Chelsea in the 1950s, and later in the South of France.

Jane was one of the two daughters of Lt-Col Lord Arthur Butler, younger son of the fourth Marquess of Ormonde (the descendant of the Great Duke), who commanded his regiment, the 17/21st Lancers, and succeeded his brother as sixth Marquess in 1949. Jane and her sister Martha were left with their maternal grandmother while their parents served abroad.

They were educated entirely by governesses, even for the one year they accompanied their parents to Egypt, except for a single year of school at Edinburgh. By the age of 13 Jane had read most of Scott and Dickens, for she was quietly intellectual and literary. The war cheated her of university. Instead, having learned to type, she worked, aged 16, in the office of the Grand Union Canal in Leicester, waiting until 1943, when she was old enough to join the WRNS. She was selected (though she never knew why) to go to Stanmore, where she worked with the German code-breaking group that operated the Enigma machines. She was extremely good at the job, which required manual dexterity.

Jane had a riotous time in the WRNS. She joined up the same day as Pegi Williams, a girl of working-class origins from South Wales, with whom she maintained a lifelong friendship and who had regularly and stealthily to open the French windows of the 'cabin' to Jane. Having never before been to London without a chaperone, Jane discovered London and boys at the same time, and was frequently 'adrift', absent for the evening without leave.

In 1945 Jane Butler married Peter Heaton, a Clerk at the House of Lords. They took the lease of a house in Ralston Street, Chelsea, but were often away sailing on their sea-going yacht. Peter Heaton, who has written and illustrated several books on the subject, was a good sailor, Jane an intrepid one. A son, Mark, was born in 1948 (with the result that Jane, who claimed she was never good with babies, ended up with five grandchildren). The marriage ended in 1952, with the details worked out in a committee room of the House of Lords, over teacups of gin.

Lady Jane, as she had then become, was a familiar sight in Chelsea, as she motored about in her tall, handsome 1923 Rolls Royce, and gave endless drinks and dinner parties at Ralston Street. The guests were those sometimes referred to as the Chelsea set, but included a good sprinkling of academics and intellectuals. Pauline Tennant and Euan Graham, Ian Little, Nicky Kaldor, Terry and Joanna Kilmartin, John Davenport, Roy Stone, Christopher Moorsom, Shura Shihwarg and Joan Wyndham, Christian Heidsieck, Anthony Crosland, Susan Barnes and Patrick Skene Catling were all regulars. Some of them were Jane's lodgers; and with some of the men she had a deeper relationship.

In Susan Crosland's life of Anthony Crosland, she tells of an episode when she and her then husband Patrick Skene Catling were returning to Baltimore by sea from Cannes, and Tony Crosland, distressed at parting from her, secured an overdraft from his bank manager to charter an aeroplane to fly to Cannes to see them off. Jane was the unnamed woman friend who accompanied Tony Crosland and she claimed that she was the only one who knew all the details of this complicated romantic parallelogram.

By the late Fifties Jane had decided to leave England. She was tired of London, unsuited to living in the country, and curiously convinced that she would lead a less 'rackety' life somewhere in the Mediterranean. One winter she and a girlfriend experimented by living on a Greek island. At Christmas, in their remote village, they decided they must have a turkey, and were obliged to buy a live one. Having no idea how to kill it, they chloroformed it and plucked it. On Christmas Day they found it in the larder, still alive but naked, and spent the holiday knitting a pullover for it.

Jane gave up on Greece and Italy, and resolved to find a house in the south of France. But her requirements for tall ceilings and huge rooms were architecturally unrealisable in this part of the world, until a St-Tropez estate agent told her of an unsaleable deconsecrated 11th-century chapel in La Garde-Freinet, a hill village in the Maures, 20km away. Jane bought it and commissioned Paulmard, a Beaux Arts graduate she had met on the beach, to convert it. Back in England she ordered a customised red Daimler V-8 convertible with left-hand drive, in which she regularly negotiated the 108 hairpin bends between St-Tropez and her new village. A pantechnicon soon arrived, stuffed with the Ormonde furniture that explained why she needed such enormous rooms. For the dining-room, just below the crypt of her chapel, she ordered a baronial dining-table that required 10 men to instal; it was always set with Limoges porcelain and her American grandmother's silver, and graced with wonderful food. The quantity of the drink took precedence over its quality.

In the tiny kitchen down a couple of stairs, Jane held her salon. Its door opened on to the Place de la Mairie and was just off a route nationale. Motorists would often stop, and mistaking it for a shop, ask if the highly polished copper saucepans, the booty of one of the Ormonde houses, were for sale. If Jane liked their looks she'd offer them a glass of pastis, and introduce them to her other guests, who might have included the eminent economists Ian Little and Nicky Kaldor, each of whom had followed Jane's lead and bought houses in the village, or Goldie Hawn, who treated Jane as a confidante, along with the village plumber, electrician and builder.

The conversation, often conducted in both languages, was sparkling, for Jane's sense of humour was robust. She loved bawdy, and was the author of several limericks that deserve a place in anthologies.

In the Sixties Jane spotted a French NCO, Jacques Rondeau, playing patience in one of the flats opposite her bedroom window, and she lived with him, and followed him on his posting to dreary Verdun, until his death in the late Eighties. She had the first of several strokes in 1967. Though she had not retained the slim figure of her youth, she did not lose her looks, and you could see the great beauty in the large lady she became after her illnesses.

The war prevented Jane from having the conventional social life of a girl of her class and time, but she combined the tolerance of one of nature's bohemians with a rigid aristocratic view of good manners. Part of this was the code of bravery: Jane never complained about her health. She was in England, on one of her rare visits, when she fell, getting back into bed, and broke her femur. She almost enjoyed her stay in the Royal Free Hospital; the staff were wonderful to her (for to meet Lady Jane was to love her), and she saw a great many of her old friends, who were shocked and grieved when she died suddenly, of a massive heart attack, last Thursday.

(Photograph omitted)

The Viscount of Arbuthnott, Lord-Lieutenant of Kincardineshire, Lord-Lieutenant Grampian Region (Kincardineshire) 68; Mr John Arden, playwright, 62; Mr Kevin Barron MP, 46; Sir Andrew Carnwath, banker, 83; Mr Ian Chapman, chairman, Chapmans Publishers, 67; Sir Joseph Cleary, former MP, 90; Sir Percy Cradock, Prime Minister's adviser on Foreign Affairs, 69; Mr Paul Daneman, actor, 67; Mr Bob Edwards, former deputy chairman, Mirror Group, 67; Mr Edward Garnier MP, 40; Professor Robert Hinde, Master of St John's College, Cambridge, 69; Mr Bob Hoskins, actor, 50; Sir Clifford Inniss, former Judge of Appeal, Belize, 82; Air Marshal Sir Douglas Jackman, 90; Mr Peter Joslin, chief constable, Warwickshire, 59; Sir Donald MacDougall, economist, 80; M Francois Mitterand, President of France, 76; Lord Molloy, former MP, 74; Mr Gyorgy Pauk, concert violinist, 56; Mr Thomas Sackville MP, Under- Secretary, Department of Health, 42; Lord Scanlon, former trade union leader, 79; Sir James Scott, Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, 68; Miss Jaclyn Smith, actress, 44; Mr Shaw Taylor, broadcaster, 68; Sir Michael Wright, High Court judge, 60; Lord Wylie QC, a former Senator of the Scottish College of Justice, 69.