Mary, Lady Delamere
The Rt Hon. Sir Ernest Cassel
ABOVE: Mary - as a bridesmaid in 1922
at the society wedding of the year -
her sister Edwina's marriage to Mountbatten
RIGHT: Mary as a society debutante in 1925
In June 1925, Mary became one of the most famous debutantes of the social season. Not only was she a tall, elegant young woman with impeccable connections, but she of course was in line to inherit a fortune, left to her in trust by her millionaire grandfather - The Rt Hon. Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921) Mary was hailed as a society beauty and although often shadowed by her elder sister (Edwina), she also became one of the most talked about ladies in the country. The guests of honour at her 'coming out' ball at Brook House (hosted by Edwina and Mountbatten) were Prince Albert, The Duke of York, later King George VI (1895(1936-1952) and The Duchess, later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900-2002).
Alec 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid in 1924
Mary's grandfather - Sir Ernest died on 21st September 1921, following a heart attack whilst at his desk in Brook House, Park Lane, London - he was 69yrs old. He was as well organised in death, as he was alive. His will was detailed - with an estate valued at over £7 million (nearly £270 million in today's money). Edwina and Mary were to inherit jointly Sir Ernest's Villa Cassel in Switzerland; Sir Ernest's sister - Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925) - 'Auntie-Grannie' was given use of Brook House and Branksome Dene for the rest of her life, and then it would go to Edwina, and failing all his relations in specific order, Brook House would be offered to the Sovereign; Sir Ernest's estates in Newmarket, including the Six Mile Bottom estate would pass to Mary. Sir Ernest's vast fortune would be split into 64 parts - with 16 parts going to Mary when she came of age; and 25 parts to Edwina (the largest single share) - £2 million (nearly £90 million in today's money). Should Mary or Edwina die childless, then the surviving sister would inherit their share of Sir Ernest's fortune.
Mary's sister Edwina and Mountbatten were married on 18th July 1922 at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, London in a glittering social event, with King George V (1865(1910-1936) and all the Royal Family in attendance. His cousin - Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor, acted as best man and was dressed in the ceremonial uniform of a Royal Navy Captain. Mary was one of the seven bridesmaids at the society event of the year.
In December 1926, Captain Alec 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid (1895-1977) proposed to Wilfrid's youngest daughter - Mary. He was Ashley's Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS), who during World War I was one of the youngest officers in the Royal Flying Corps and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1918. Cunningham-Reid also taught Mountbatten's
cousins - Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor and Prince Albert 'Bertie', The Duke of York, later King George VI (1895(1936-1952) to fly a plane. He had been a frequent visitor to Broadlands for the hunting and fishing and was an able PPS in Parliament.
Wilfrid was not pleased to hear of his youngest daughter's intention to marry his PPS, fearing that his ambitious assistant was more interested in Mary's fortune, than in Mary herself and that she was too young to marry someone who was so exuberant "a dare-devil". Under the terms of her grandfather's will, Mary would inherit her fortune in her own right on her 21st birthday (which was on 22nd July 1927), unless she got married before - when (as was the case then) the control of her money would go to her husband. Such was the turmoil that Mary, who had always been highly strung, had a breakdown. However on 20th January 1927, their engagement was finally officially announced.
Cunningham-Reid and Mary were married at St Margaret's Church, Westminster (the same as The Mountbattens) on 12th May 1927 (a few weeks prior to her 21st birthday) - the service was conducted by The Revd Canon William H. Carnegie (1860-1936), the Rector of St Margaret's. The ceremony was a real test for Mary's nerves and once again Ashley conducted a daughter down the aisle of St Margaret's Church. Mary wore a simple but elegant dress designed by Lady Victor Paget (née The Hon. Bridget Colebrook) (1892-1975) of silver tissue embroidered with silver fringe all over. The dress had a train which was embroidered with pearls and silver beads, edged with the same silver fringe, and an oyster tinted tulle veil and a headdress of two silver leaves, on a Russian style headdress of orange blossom and pearls. Mary was presented with a prayer book - which was a gift from the ladies in her husband's constituency.
An engagement photograph of
Alec 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid & Mary
Alec 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid & Miss Mary Ashley following their wedding with their bridesmaids and pages -
(left to right) The Lady Mary Pratt; The Hon. Patrick Plunket; Cunningham-Reid; Mary; Sarah Norton
& Jean Williamson. Seated (front row, left to right) Patricia Mountbatten, later 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma
& John Norton
The bridesmaids were - Patricia Mountbatten, later 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1924-2017); Lady Mary Pratt (1921-2007), daughter of Mary's cousin Marjorie Pratt (née Jenkins), Countess of Brecknock (1900-1989); (The Hon.) Jean Williamson (1919-2009), the granddaughter of The Rt Hon. Archibald Williamson, 1st Lord Forres (1860-1931); (The Hon.) Sarah Norton, daughter of The Hon. Richard Norton, later 6th Lord Grantley (1892-1954), who all wore 'ballet skirts' of white organdie muslin piped with silver, with wreaths of tiny silver roses in their hair - who carried posies of white roses and lily-of-the-valley. The pages - Master John Norton, later 7th Lord Grantley (1923-1995) and The Hon. Patrick Plunket, later 7th Lord Plunket (1923-1975) - wore white satin trousers with braces, over a white muslin shirt piped with silver. The Best Man was Terence Plunket, 6th Lord Plunket (1899-1938), father of one of the young pages and amongst the ushers were - John Pratt, Earl of Brecknock, later 4th Marquess Camden (1872-1943).
Royal Guests at Mary's wedding to 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid included - Princess Beatrice, Princess Henry of Battenberg (1857-1944), youngest daughter of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901); Princess Arthur of Connaught & Strathearn, 2nd Duchess of Fife (1891-1959); Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark, formerly Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969) accompanied by her husband Prince Andrew of Greece & Denmark (1882-1944) accompanied by their four daughters - Princess Margarita (1905-1981), Princess Theodora (1906-1969), Princess Cecilie (1911-1937) and Princess Sophie (1914-2001); Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, The Aga Khan III (1887-1957). Other notable guests included - The Rt Hon. (Sir) Stanley Baldwin, later 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley (1867-1947), the Prime Minister of the UK accompanied by his wife (Dame) Lucy 'Cissie' Baldwin (1869-1945) and their daughter (Lady) Esther 'Betty' Baldwin (1902-1981); The Rt Hon. (Sir) Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937); The Rt Hon. (Sir) Winston Churchill (1874-1965), later Prime Minister of the UK; Dame Caroline Bridgeman (née Parker), later Viscountess Bridgeman (1873-1961); The Rt Hon. Lord Robert Cecil, later 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (1864-1958).
Edwina and Molly were joint hosts of the reception at Brook House, which had been let out to the Argentinian Minister to the UK - Don José Evaristo Uriburu y Álvarez de Arenales (1831-1914), but moved out so that Edwina and her family could use it for Mary's wedding. Following the reception, The Cunningham-Reids left for Villa Mont Agel, near Monte Carlo (the home of Lord Forres) for a short while, before they went on a tour around the world.
Alec 'Bobby' Cunningham-Reid & Mary
following their wedding in 1927
Mrs Mary Cunningham-Reid