Obituary: Loelia Lindsay

James Lees-Milne
Wednesday 03 November 1993 01:02 GMT

Loelia Mary Ponsonby: born 1902, married 1930 Hugh Richard Arthur, second Duke of Westminster (died 1953; marriage dissolved 1947), 1969 Sir Martin Lindsay of Dowhill Bt (died 1981); died 1 November 1993.

TO MANY Loelia Lindsay will be best remembered as Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, author of an extraordinarily frank autobiography, Grace and Favour, published in 1961, which has proved to be something of a social document. This was an awful saga, light-heartedly written, of a (comparatively) poor girl marrying, presumably for passion, one of the richest and handsomest men of the day, with whom she had little in common. The wedding of the Hon Loelia Ponsonby to 'Bendor', second Duke of Westminster was the society event of 1930. The marriage was made hideous by the husband's selfishness, wilfulness, inordinate jealousy and boredom. For six agonising years the couple seldom stayed more than two nights under the same roof.

Loelia had merely to express a partiality for a certain flower and barrowloads of exotic plants were wheeled into her hotel sitting-room; or for a certain make of car and a Rolls Royce was driven that afternoon to the front door. If ever a disillusioned, wretched, captive young wife adorned a tale of luxury, she pointed a moral which still has a warning for today's world of cosmopolitan multimillionaires.

Loelia emerged, if not entirely unscathed from this traumatic experience, then with her boundless sense of humour intact. When I met her in 1943 she was free from the marital shackles, though not yet divorced, and living in an entrancing pink-washed, Jane-Austen-like seatlet, Send Grove near Woking. She was able to indulge a faultless natural taste in decorating this small Regency house after presiding over a vast Gothic palace where she was allowed no scope whatsoever. Furthermore she was able to entertain her own literary and artistic friends after enduring the duke's hunting and shooting companions and toadies (the first house-party she hosted at Eaton Hall numbered 75 people of whom she barely knew two couples). Between her separation and the necessity to leave Send Grove for financial reasons she probably passed the happiest years of her life. In 1969 to the surprise of her friends she married Sir Martin Lindsay, MP, traveller, Arctic explorer and leader of a gallant expedition to Greenland. Lindsay was a devoted husband, indefatigable in rendering her contented and comfortable.

Loelia Lindsay was tall, dark, handsome; with what is called a distinct presence. Her manner, which at first struck strangers as imperious, soon broke into relaxed friendliness. Underneath she was extremely shy, probably because of the frequent absences of her parents from home when she was a child. Her father, the first Lord Sysonby, was a member of the court successively of Queen Victoria, Kings Edward VII and George V. From her beautiful and somewhat overbearing mother she inherited two considerable gifts, gardening and needlework. Loelia's needlework, of which she was justly proud, was regarded by professionals as absolutely first-rate. She experimented with different stitches in minute petit point mingling beads and even hair with coloured silks and wools.

Loelia had an enquiring mind which quickly grasped problems not immediately soluble by less astute persons. She was extremely high-spirited and life-enhancing. She was a great enjoyer. Her sense of the ludicrous was infectious and in listening to stories she would laugh until the tears rained down her cheeks. To be with her was to experience enchantment, translating into an ambience where wit and humour spread their wings and lively talk sparkled and rippled.

(Photograph omitted)

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