There is an extraordinary grave monument in the cemetery in Datchet, one that was inexplicable until recent research was triggered by an enquiry from a relative. It is now known that the python winding around the broken column is not symbolic but was a real one, nine feet long, and that the lemur in the panel below was a real pet. Their owner was as exotic as her animals, and this is the story of her life and of how she came to be buried at Datchet in January 1914.
Mary Fenton was born in Bombay, the daughter of a vicar, and in 1888 she was married to her second husband, the Honourable Arthur Charles Lewin Cadogan, brother to the Earl of Cadogan. The 1911 census for their house in Culford Gardens, Chelsea, proved a great help in unravelling this story and its characters. The Cadogan household consisted of Arthur aged 69; his wife Mary, aged 49, and four servants; but there was also a visitor staying there. This was Arthur Warren Jack Cumming, aged 21. The original enquiry Datchet Village Society received had been about Arthur Cumming from his great-nephew Ed Crutchley. Ed was trying to discover why Cumming was buried in Datchet next to Mary Cadogan’s grave in May 1914 (four months after Mary’s death), when neither of them appeared to have lived in Datchet.
Arthur Cumming (above) was a brilliant young ice-skater who had won the silver medal for figure-skating at the 1908 Olympic Games, and Mary Cadogan was his partner in pair skating at the 1912 Nordic Games. Mary was described in 1901 as a most skilful fencer and one of the best English horsewomen. These two, so widely separated by age, moved in the same social circles: Arthur Cumming’s sister knew the Cadogan family and wrote about Mary in her book of memoirs. Arthur worked as a motor demonstrator for Rover cars, but possibly their only one who had been educated at Eton. Mary and this young Arthur seem to have developed a relationship which ended in his burial next to her in Datchet’s cemetery.
Mary Cadogan and her python attracted a great deal of interest from the press. In 1905 several articles were published, from which this information comes: Her recently-bought nine-foot long Indian python, named Mr Levi, was quite at home at her house in Culford Gardens, but was not in a good mood when the reporter visited: “I am sorry I cannot handle him just now”, said Mrs Cadogan, “I have always had a fancy for snakes and used to play with them when I was a child.” Mary was said to have a touch equal to the best professional snake-charmers, and would wind them around her neck, waist or arms with a pleasurable confidence shown by no other lady, except perhaps the actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The studio portrait (left) was taken in 1902 by Kate Pragnell, one of only two professional female photographers at the time. She was known for her carefully contrived studio settings and probably enjoyed responding to the way Mary presented herself draped in an Indian shawl and a python.
Another reporter described Mary as an extremely interesting and entertaining woman, who could perhaps exert her influence as a snake charmer in order to fascinate human individuals. A few years later, Arthur Cumming’s sister wrote that she, “not only had a python called Genesis, but also an affable dachshund of great length and breadth, and an incredibly savage little lemur”. She also wrote that guests recoiling from the horror inspired by their first sight of Genesis, often found themselves attacked in the rear by the lemur, who would shin up the curtains and jitter at them from the cornice-pole.
The first photo above was taken at the same time as the Country Life picture, but with Angy the lemur tucked into Mary’s arm; apparently not deemed suitable for the cover of the journal. The other shows her encircled by a python and the enormous dachshund sitting beside her, with what seems to be a ribbon tied in a bow on its head.
In her memoir, Cumming’s sister wrote about Mary’s memorial: “Genesis’ mistress spent much time and thought designing her own tombstone, for she died gallantly, refusing to be operated on for an incurable disease. The monument was to be a broken column, with Genesis ascending, the lemur ‘Angy’ at the top and the dachshund below. Unfortunately, those in authority disapproved and the monument was never erected. It seems to me it would have been both original and allegorical”.
These plans for her tombstone were presumably rejected by officials at the Cadogan family burial site, or perhaps by her husband himself who seems to have played no part in her burial. Mary died at their Chelsea house but Arthue Cadogan was not recorded as present at her death. So how was it that Mary’s tombstone (by Francis John Williamson, Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor), was built in Datchet’s cemetery, almost to her original design, when she appears to have had no connection with the village? And why was Arthur buried next to her a few months later? Again, it is the 1911 census for Chelsea which offers a clue.
Very near to the Cadogans’ London house, in Culford Mansions, lived Helen Lennox-Boyd, aged 50 and unmarried. Her sister, Mary, married to Daniel Ledsam, was not far away at Egerton Gardens in Kensington; this family proves crucial for unravelling the rest of the story. The Cadogans and Lennox-Boyds were certainly friends and may have been related, while all three women were close in age. Daniel Ledsam provides the Datchet link, because he and his wife Mary (nee Lennox-Boyd) bought the big house Swanmead in The Avenue, as well as their Chelsea property.
In 1912 Mrs Mary Ledsam died and her funeral was reported in the Slough newspaper; two of the mourners, listed together, were the Hon Mrs Cadogan and Mr Arthur Cumming. The Ledsams may have been in the village for some years, because Arthur Cumming seems to have visited someone here in 1906. He was prosecuted for speeding on a motorbike through Datchet on his way to London; Sgt Caswell, the local policeman, claimed he had been driving at 27 miles an hour and failed to produce a licence when required. At the Magistrate’s Court, Cumming (of Mayfair, London) said he had had a licence but it had run out and he hadn’t replaced it, and that he was riding a borrowed bike; he was fined £4 for both offences.
The Ledsams had a daughter named Gwen, who married Capt. William H Brady. This Mrs Gwen Brady remained atSwanmead into the 1970s, and is remembered by at least two local people, Helen Jenkins and Peter Ashford. Peter also knew Mrs Brady’s daughter, Georgina, who told him she had heard that a lemur used to be kept in the small front bedroom of the house called Timsbury in Montagu Road, now number 25. From street directories we know that Helen Lennox-Boyd lived at Timsbury, just round the corner from the Ledsams at Swanmead.
So then the story began to come together. When Mary Cadogan died, aged 52, at Culford Gardens in 1914 it seems likely that Helen Lennox Boyd was responsible for her burial in Datchet, fulfilling Mary’s wish to have such an unusual headstone. And it can only have been Helen who took care of Mary’s lemur at Timsbury. The women were clearly close. Helen herself was buried in 1923 next on the left to Mary, her own tombstone being a conventional cross. Helen’s grave also includes that of her niece Mrs Gwen Brady, who died in 1973, aged 84. When Gwen’s own daughter was born in 1928, she was named Georgina Helen, probably in honour of her great-aunt, and the stories of Mary Cadogan would surely have been passed on. This would explain how, many years later when visiting her mother in Datchet, Georgina was able to relate the tale of the lemur at Timsbury to Peter Ashford.
On the right of Mary Cadogan’s tomb is that of Arthur Cumming (photo at top of page), buried here in May 1914. He was involved in a motorbike accident in London, in which a friend of his died, followed by Arthur’s death a week later. His death certificate lists a head injury from being thrown from a motorbike. Apparently he had been expected to live but succumbed to septicaemia. An inquest was held which recorded an open verdict. His widowed mother died just after the accident, but before Arthur’s death, from alcohol addiction and an opium overdose, possibly deliberate. In these tragic circumstances, Arthur was buried by his two sisters (who had no connections with Datchet themselves but clearly knew all about their brother’s life), next to his skating partner, Mary.
But the memorial of Mary Cadogan herself still has more surprises. At its foot a stone plaque is set in the grass, inscribed Angy, April 18th 1910, with an extract from a poem followed by George, October 2nd 1920. Angy was the lemur’s name, and George may have been the huge dachshund, but surely Mary’s animals weren’t actually buried here, even in such a tolerant cemetery as Datchet’s? This is the poetic extract:
There are men both good and wise
Who think that in a future state
Dumb creatures we have
Cherished here below
Will give us joyous greeting
When we pass the golden gate
Is it folly if I hope it may be so
Very strangely, while this account was being written, the present owners of Swanmead found the original nameplate for the house left on their doorstep, with a message saying that it was from Georgina Brady’s god-daughters, who thought that they might like to have it. Since then we have discovered that Georgina died in London as recently as this January, and are now in touch with her two god-daughters. They have visited Datchet to bury her ashes at the foot of Helen Lennox-Boyd’s headstone, where Georgina’s mother Gwen Brady had also been buried, so bringing the whole story back to Datchet cemetery.
With thanks to Ed Crutchley, Helen Jenkins, Peter Ashford and Alison Crampin; this article was originally written for The Link, September 2016.