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Mary, Lady Delamere
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Mary Cholmondeley (née Ashley), Lady Delamere

The Hon. (Ruth) Mary Clarisse Cholmondeley, Lady Delamere (née Ashley, formerly Cunningham-Reid and later Gardner) was born on 22nd July 1906, the youngest daughter of Lt-Col. The Rt Hon. Wilfrid William Ashley, 1st Lord Mount Temple (1867-1939) and Miss Amalia Mary Maud 'Maudie' Cassel (1879-1911). She was born whilst her mother was staying at Warren House, Stanmore, Middlesex - the home of Mrs Clarissa Birschoffsheim, known as 'Mrs Bisch'  (1837-1922), the wife of the Dutch Jewish financier Henry Birschoffsheim (1829-1908).  Mary was so weak at birth, following a difficult birth that an incubator was rushed to Stanmore House to save her.  She was the younger sister of Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1901-1960).  

Her father Wilfrid, had been Private Secretary to The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908), Leader of the Liberal Party who later became Prime Minister of the UK.  Wilfrid was the son of The Rt Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836-1907), a former Member of Parliament (MP), who had served as a Minister in the Government led by The Rt Hon. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898).  Mary's mother was the 'delicate' daughter of The Rt Hon. Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921), the Jewish merchant banker and friend of King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910), who was god-father of her sister - Edwina.   

 

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Warren House, Stanmore c.1908

 

At the time of her birth, Mary's father Wilfrid was away (as usual).  Mary said of her own birth - "My father was livid with me because after a big gap I was another girl.  I was a seven month old baby who could be said to have virtually killed her mother.  Add to the indignity of that, I was a girl!  So I wasn't prime favourite for an Edwardian father who wanted a son to fuss over."   While recovering at Warren House following Mary's birth, Maudie organised the purchase of nearby 'The Grove', a house with a small farm, which Sir Ernest had funded the £17,000 price.  Meanwhile, Wilfrid was frequently away shooting and fishing in Scotland.  Both parents hardly spent much time together or with their children - when the House of Commons sat, Wilfrid stayed in London, when the House of Commons rose he would go fishing and shooting and stay with friends.  For Maudie, when Wilfrid was in London, she would stay at Warren House - but their  children would stay at home or sent to various Cassel and Shaftesbury relations.  More and more, Maudie's health would keep her apart from her children.

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Mary's mother -

Mrs Maudie Ashley

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Mary's father - Lt-Col. The Rt Hon. Wilfrid Ashley,

1st Lord Mount Temple

View Mary's
Paternal Ancestry

click HERE

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In 1907, following the death of Wilfrid's father, 'The Grove' was let out, and The Ashleys took up residence at Broadlands and with their parent's constant absences, Mary and Edwina relied on each other for companionship.  As a child, Mary competed with her eldest sister, with stories full of self-drama, which she continued throughout her life.  Like children of their class, they led a strict life run by various governesses, but they would spend a lot of their time playing with the children of the Broadland's Land Agent - who would also be charged with looking after the girls' numerous pets whilst they were away.  Their other main companion was their favourite cousin - Marjorie Pratt (née Jenkins), later Countess of Brecknock (1900-1989), the granddaughter of Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925), sister of Sir Ernest, who lived at nearby Wherwell Priory, further along the River Test near Andover, Hampshire.

Maudie had been in bad health for many years and grew weaker and weaker throughout what were the last years of her life, having hidden the true nature of her condition from not only her children but also from her husband.  Sir Ernest had taken Maudie to the warmer climate of Egypt in an effort to reduce her symptoms, but it soon became clear that Maudie was loosing her battle against tuberculosis (TB).  As Winter came in 1910, Broadlands became too cold for Maudie and she was too ill to head back to Egypt, so Sir Ernest had her moved to the The Ashley's home in Mayfair surrounded by nurses.  During 1910, due to the turbulent political crises with two General Elections in a year, Wilfrid had spent a great deal of time in his Blackpool constituency.  However, by December 1910 - with the second election over, Wilfrid was able to join his wife and they spent Christmas together, which would be their last.  In late January 1911, Mary and Edwina were taken to stay in a hotel in Bournemouth, Dorset with Sir Ernest's sister - Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925), unaware that their mother was dying.  On the 5th February 1911, Maudie finally succumbed to her condition and died from tuberculosis at Broadlands - she was just 30yrs old.

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ABOVE: On board SS Ypiranga - (left to right) Edwina,
Mary and their cousin Marjorie, later Countess of Brecknock

LEFT: The Ashley sisters - Mary and Edwina (right)
dressed for a party

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View Mary's
Cassell Family

click HERE

Following Maudie's death, Mary and Edwina spent more of their childhood at Broadlands (rather than 'fobbed off' with numerous relatives) and Edwina decided to take the role of young 'guardian' to her sister,  who would be as volatile as ever - often referred to as her "little ways".  In 1912, Sir Ernest chartered the 'SS Ypiranga' for a family expedition - a cruise around Norway and Sptitzbergen, and Mary, Edwina and their cousin Marjorie spent an idyllic time together.  On their return to Broadlands, the children found that they had a new governess - Miss Laura Devéria, who had a calming influence on the children - especially Mary, who was quickly turning into a boisterous tomboy, full of fun and drama.  Mary became tall, elegant with her red-auburn hair.

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Sir Ernest Cassel's Summer holiday residence, high in the Swiss Alps - Villa Cassel c.1905

In the Spring of 1913, Mary fell ill with an appendicitis and was operated on at Sir Ernest's home - Brook House, Park Lane, London and Edwina was brought up to London to be with her sister, while she recuperated.  In July 1913, Sir Ernest took the Ashley children (accompanied by their new governess), their cousin Marjorie - accompanied by her mother Mrs Anna Jenkins, née Cassel (1868-1959), to his Swiss home - Villa Cassel, near Riederfurka.  It would be the last time for many years that the family would be together and so happy.  The spectre of a European war was becoming closer and Sir Ernest, a German-born Jew, had already been a target of growing anti-German hysteria that began to sweep through the country.  Following the assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914), the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungary Thrones on 28th June 1914, the prospect of war seemed almost inevitable.  The situation was changing daily - on 2nd August 1914, Germany invaded Luxembourg and the next day Germany declared war on France and sent the Belgian Government an ultimatum demanding unimpeded right of way through any part of Belgium, which was refused.  In the early morning of 4th August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium and under the 1839 Treaty of London, the UK Government demanded Germany respect Belgian neutrality - which was ignored and after failing to respond to the diplomatic deadline, the UK Government declared war on Germany.

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Mary's stepmother in 1923 - 
Mrs Muriel 'Molly' Ashley,

later Lady Mount Temple
 

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On 28th August 1914, Wilfrid Ashley (Edwina’s father) remarried and his new wife - Muriel (known as 'Molly') Spencer (1881-1954), the former wife of Rear Admiral The Hon. Lionel Forbes-Sempill (1877-1962). was not liked by his children.  She also made long-term family friends feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.  Molly asked her two step-children to call her 'Madre', and one of her first actions was to dismiss Miss Laura Devéria, the children's favourite governess - which made her even more unpopular.  Mary said later - "it was a terrible blow... I adored her.  But when my stepmother arrived she saw this very good looking and charming governess who possible might take some of the attention from herself, and sacked her."   As a result of Molly's changes, both Edwina and Mary resented her and when cousin Marjorie visited, Molly always felt that the three girls would 'gang up' against her.  Meanwhile, Wilfrid and cousin Marjorie's father - Colonel Atherton Edward Jenkins (1859-1945), known as 'Cousin Teddy', were away on active service with their regiments training new recruits in the Army.

 

As the new 'chatelaine' of Broadlands, Molly immediately started to make changes, redecorated Broadlands and in January 1916, Mary was dispatched to The Links School, in Eastbourne, Sussex - which only had 37 pupils and was run by Miss Jane 'Potty' Potts, who had been governess to Princess Alice of Battenberg, later Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark (1885-1969) - Mountbatten's sister.  Edwina soon joined her sister at The Links School and the two sisters were together until 1919, when Edwina went to a finishing school in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  Mary enjoyed her time in Eastbourne, but missed Edwina organising her and she felt vulnerable.  At the age of 14yrs she decided she wished to be called 'Maria' and subsequently went to a finishing school in Paris, France. 

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ABOVE: Mary as a young lady in 1922

RIGHT: The Links School,

Eastbourne, Sussex