Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The life of Lady Maureen Fellowes, 1917-2009

Yesterday was my step-grandmother's funeral. Born in 1917 the eldest child of the fourth Earl of Gainsborough, she is the last of an era. I adored her. She had the silliest giggle, talked about people in history as if they were friends and was so undomesticated she once tried to cut a raw egg in half when told to separate the yolk from the whites.

Maureen was married by Cardinal Hume to my grandfather, Peregrine Launcelot Fellowes, in 1982. My own beloved grandmother had died just a couple of years before, but Maureen, while never grandmotherly in the baking-cakes sense, was quick to make my sister and I feel part of her family. She was very small, and quite round by the time we knew her, but would gamely come to Ireland and come for trips on our motor boat, clambering in and out like a child on a rock climbing exercise. She much preferred getting the number 19 bus in Chelsea to see her hairdresser, where she would chat merrily away to whoever she found sitting next to her. But her favourite place in her later years was a comfortable armchair by the fire, where she would sit and regale me with the tales of her youth.

Think of the parties that populated F Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh's novels (to whom she once sat next to at dinner and didn't like very much) and the chinless wonders of PG Wodehouse - and that was her life. (She married very late for her generation - about the age of 27, because she was having too much fun in the meantime.) She would tell me of going to three balls in a night, and finishing off with a Chinese supper at the 100 Club at 4am. She would go to fabulous house parties at the biggest stately homes around England ("where I'd always have the best room and be able to take my own maid, because I'd always be the grandest there").

Completely uneducated, she was nevertheless absolutely fluent in French and Spanish (the latter because of an adored Spanish grandmother who couldn't speak English) and had a passion for the opera, theatre and history. (I got the highest mark in the school for European History in my A'level papers, which I put down entirely to having spent a week with her before the exams when she told me all the stories as if history were a particularly racy novel.)

Maureen's two daughters never went to school either, because she much preferred to have them at home where they could all have fun. The youngest was still having her silk stockings put on her legs by her own lady's maid when she was 18 years old.

Of course, I suppose one must say that we are glad such privilege is over now. But Maureen was never silly. She was almost defined by her Catholicism (although never pious and quicker than anyone to point out the church's faults) and throughout her life did a lot of work for charity, particularly local hospitals, where she would visit the patients to chat to them, encouraging her daughters to do the same regularly. She was huge fun, loving and all for the family. Had she been born in a terraced house in Manchester, she would have been exactly the same, only with a northern accent. I shall miss her hugely.


  1. "The youngest was still having her silk stockings put on her legs by her own lady's maid when she was 18 years old."

    Can I request your source of this?


    Jessica Fellowes writes incorrectly:

    "...quick to make my sister and I [sic] part of the family..."

    And Lady Maureen Fellowes was apparently "completely uneducated", according to her 'STEPgrand-daughter!'.

    However, Lady Maureen and her 'uneducated' two daughters would never make this grammatical error, mixing-up "I" with "ME"

    It should, of course, be: "...quick to make my sister and ME part of the family..."