The Lady of Lake Windermere



LIFE OF A LADY  Portrait of Lady Elizabeth as a child. Photo by Dowager Lady Iddesleigh
LIFE OF A LADY Portrait of Lady Elizabeth as a child. Photo by Dowager Lady Iddesleigh

Editors note: Freelance writer Dorothy Isted made a trip to England this past fall, where she went on a discovery quest to Upton Pyne, the hometown of Lady Elizabeth, whose covered gravestone at Kinsmen Beach holds the key to pivotal moments in Invermere history after the turn of the 20th century. Lady Elizabeth, the bride of Sir Randolph Bruce (one of the valleys foremost pioneers), died in 1915, shortly before their home, Pynelogs (now the Pynelogs Cultural Centre and Art Gallery), was completed.

By Dorothy Isted

Special to The Pioneer

Lady Elizabeth Mabel Northcote married Robert Randolph Bruce on January 6th, 1914. It was a grand and much talked about event. Newspapers in Britain and Canada carried much of the details, from the white flowers and the palm-adorned church to streets festooned with flags, bunting and banners. The bride wore fresh orange blossoms and diamonds in her coronet and had hand-sewn pearls and silver threads in her gown. The marriage took place in St. Marys church in Upton Pyne, the village near the brides historic manor house, Pynes.

Pynes is now called Devons Downtown Abbey due to its comparable size of 21,000 square feet containing about 70 rooms.

Queen Victoria favoured Lady Elizabeths grandfather. Member of Parliament Sir Stafford Northcote worked for British prime ministers Gladstone and Disraeli, and held prestigious government positions, one being President of The Hudsons Bay Company when they gave the Northwest Territory to Canada in 1870. He also served as finance minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

The sign for the village Upton Pyne in Devon, England. Photo by Dorothy Isted
The sign for the village Upton Pyne in Devon, England. Photo by Dorothy Isted

When it was suggested to the queen that the eighth generation baronet be elevated to a viscount, she is said to have responded: Oh no, I like Northcote. Lets make him an earl. The family name is Northcote, but the inherited title is Iddesleigh. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Earl Iddesleigh in 1852, he renovated Pynes in order to create a grand entry for her. The Northcote family traced its roots back to the 12th century in Devon where they became wealthy as cloth merchants in the 1600s.

Pynes also has a literary connection. Northcote family lore claims and literary experts agree that Jane Austen stayed there and used Pynes as her model for Barton Place in Sense and Sensibility. Nearby Barton Cottage can be seen on the Jane Austen walk today and is believed to be the inspiration for the Dashwood sisters (the novels main characters) small home after the entail system disinherited them of their large family estate.

Randolph Bruce kept detailed diaries, copies of which can be viewed at the Windermere Valley Museum. In Bruces 1900 commercial diary, the publisher lists important facts such as the chief powers of Europe, metric and imperial weights and measures, etc. Intriguingly, there is also a list of the House of Peers England. In alphabetical order, we see named Iddesleigh Northcote.

Pynes (now the Downtown Abbey), the manor house of Lady Elizabeth. Photo by Dorothy Isted
Pynes (now the Downtown Abbey), the manor house of Lady Elizabeth. Photo by Dorothy Isted

The cobwebbed servants' paging bells at the Downtown Abbey in Upton Pyne. Photo by Dorothy Isted
The cobwebbed servants bells at the Downtown Abbey in Upton Pynes. Photo by Dorothy Isted

Lord Iddesleighs second son, Elizabeths uncle, became Governor-General of Australia and married Lord Mt. Stephens daughter. This connection to Lord Mt. Stephen appears to be how Randolph Bruce met Lady Elizabeth.

Mt. Stephen was the first president of Canadian Pacific Railway and the richest man in Canada. He grew up as a stable boy in the same Scottish town as Randolph Bruce and was Bruces employer when the latter immigrated to Canada.

There is belief amongst oldtimers in the valley that there were schemes to marry Bruce to Lady Rosalind, elder sister to Lady Elizabeth, but he found her prickly and unapproachable. Bruce travelled to Baden Baden in Germany seeking a cure for the blindness and headaches he developed from assaying his own silver the Paradise Mine enriched him, but robbed him of much of his sight.

Upton Pyne church where she married Randolph Bruce. Photo by Dorothy Isted
Upton Pyne church where she married Randolph Bruce. Photo by Dorothy Isted

Bruce had a lively social life. He was always off lunching, dining, motoring and attending theatres with Lord This and Lady That. A lot of ladies, actually.

He rarely put personal notes in his diaries but after a day spent with Lady Elizabeth and her female escort in Baden Baden, he commented: Most enjoyable day.

By 1913, Lady Elizabeth was 37 years old, and generally would have been regarded as unmarriageable and a spinster, often a derogatory term.

Why would she have been at the medical spa Bruce attended in Baden Baden? Did she have a lingering illness or was she there as company for her older companion, Mrs. Cecil?

Unlikely, for Mrs. Cecil went back to England while Lady Elizabeth stayed. Between October 2nd and October 11th, Bruce recorded, in his diaries, four day outings involving Lady Elizabeth and others.

Retired archivist Penny Rundle of Salisbury, England explained the likely situation of Lady Elizabeth at the time: Her schooling would have been around 1888. She would have been educated at home almost entirely. It is unlikely she would have gone to boarding school there were not a series of public schools for them, like the boys. She would have had governesses and been educated in poetry, reading and writing. Shed have known geography of the world, history of the British Empire, but not politics and economics. She would have had tutors. Shed have been taught art and music, learned to play the piano. Most cultured families had very good libraries and the children would have been encouraged to explore them. Mostly the girls were expected to marry well, at around 20. She (Lady Elizabeth) was very unusual not to have married earlier. That was likely her choice not to marry. There was no way shed not received proposals.

Randolph Bruce kept a dizzying pace. Crossing Canada, back and forth to England and Germany twice, a world tour, tooling around Golden, Revelstoke and Invermere all in 1913. And then, on January 6th, 1914, a laconic notation in his diary: Pynes. Married. The couple honeymooned in Paris, Monte Carlo and Genoa.

A few months later on April 11th, Lady Elizabeth disembarked the Empress of Britain in Halifax with Bruce. Then onward west by train to Calgary, where they stopped for a week, arriving in Wilmer on April 13th. The small town of Wilmer, with a lot of miners and bachelors in the mix, were proud to welcome the newlyweds.

In his diary, Randolph listed the presents taken to Canada. Touchingly, one of them was a tea sett (sic) from the Pynes servants. Children in noble families had more contact with servants than their parents. Even as late as 1950, children of nobility were kept out of the way in nurseries and sent off to schools.

Randolph had begun to build their new home, Pynelogs, on the shore of Lake Windermere before he left to marry. Work stalled in his absence. It isnt known how long Elizabeth stayed in the Wilmer house. At some point, they moved to a houseboat that was anchored offshore from Pynelogs.

In that name, it is hard to miss the connection to her home back in England, and Elizabeth must have often thought of it, especially when she saw the antlered stags, like those guarding her front door at Pynes.

Lady Elizabeth and Bruce on their wedding day. Newspaper Clipping courtesy of Windermere Valley Museum
Lady Elizabeth and Bruce on their wedding day. Newspaper Clipping courtesy of Windermere Valley Museum

She became involved in community activities, like the Invermere Golf and Country Club. Elizabeth was connected to Ladys Connaught and Fife, who were instrumental in the British Red Cross, and when the First World War broke out, she started the Knitting Brigade with Maud Hamilton, the wife of Basil G. Hamilton, who was Randolphs Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands secretary. Her British connections made it possible to efficiently send the woollen garments knitted in the valley out to the men at the front.

A year after their wedding, the couple was back at Pynes in England, travelled to Paris with Lady Rosalind, and visited their respective families in Scotland and Devon. There is an uncharacteristic gap in Bruces diary for the summer of 1915 when he finally states they were back in Invermere in August. Then it was off to Ottawa/Toronto/New York that month. From September to the end of 1915, the diary is blank. Secretary Basil Hamilton recorded that Lady Elizabeth was ill all of September.

Lady Elizabeth died on their houseboat September 27th, 1915. It has always been said the cause of death was appendicitis. There was no autopsy. B.G. Hamilton kept concise diaries and recorded how Maud, a nurse, cared for her. The only doctor in the valley had left to help in the war.

An October 1915 newspaper article reporting on Lady Elizabeths death described her as having a sweet disposition and being very thoughtful of others. Her family wanted her body shipped back for burial in the family vault in Upton Pyne. But the First World War was raging, the Lusitania had just been sunk, and Randolph made the difficult decision to have her buried here on the shore of Lake Windermere, just to the east of Pynelogs.

Lady Elizabeths memorial plaque at her home church in Upton Pyne, England. Photo by Linda Findlay
Lady Elizabeths memorial plaque at her home church in Upton Pyne, England. Photo by Linda Findlay

Of Lady Elizabeths three siblings, only one survived their father, the second Earl Iddesleigh. Her sister Lady Rosalind lived in Pynes until her death in 1950. Shed never married or had children. It wouldnt have mattered, as with the British system of primogeniture, daughters couldnt inherit their fathers title even if they hadnobrothers. The title and lands had to go to the closest surviving male relation their first cousin, third son of the first earls third son.

The 15-year-old foster son of the third earl, Nicholas Maxwell-Lawford of Honiton, Devon, recalls visiting Pynes prior to Lady Rosalinds death. Regarding her purported testiness, he writes: I cant tell you why Lady Rosalind never married. She was a law unto herself quite a formidable woman. She used to spend most of her day in a large sitting room with the windows open, chain smoking.

Nicolas also recalls that when his foster family took possession of Pynes, they made a poignant discovery in the attic: the Bruces unopened wedding presents. We all knew they were there. They were almost like a private cemetery, not to be touched.

Eventually his parents quietly gave away the gifts.

Pynes was sold out of the Northcote family about fifteen years ago. The current owners are local Devon people who have done extensive restorations and are renting it out as a wedding and event venue. Visit www.pyneshouse.co.uk to learn more and to see what has been done to restore the manor house. Lady Elizabeth would be pleased to see the receptacle for her thwarted dreams being used in such an elegant way, keeping open the home she so loved.

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