The memories of Lord Montagu’s grandmother Pearl Pleydell-Bouverie have been published in a book which tells the story of her childhood and her time as wife to the motoring pioneer John, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu.
From the age of 11, Pearl kept a diary which forms the basis of Pearl’s Diary 1906-1930, The Life and Times of Pearl, Lady Montagu of Beaulieu. This is the account of a woman whose strength and courage enabled her to overcome the loss of her husband after only eight years of marriage. Her resolution and leadership ensured that the Beaulieu Estate survived at a time when many of the great houses and estates were being broken up.
The book, which has an introduction by Pearl’s cousin Lord Crathorne, is richly illustrated with family photographs and contains a newly researched account of her early years together with a commentary on the extraordinary life which followed.
Through Pearl’s words, a world that has long since vanished is recreated in all its variety and detail. Pearl had known the best that Edwardian society could offer – her coming-out ball was held at one of the grandest houses in the country, her uncle and aunt’s magnificent 115-room Crathorne Hall. From Pearl’s Diary:
Pearl remembered Crathorne in its splendid heyday presided over by Lionel and Violet Dugdale …. where the great house was run ‘like a velvet-covered steel glove’. There was always a footman at dinner but this was … taken for granted. One small room was used solely by ‘the young boys who polished and polished and polished’ the many pairs of Uncle Lionel’s shoes.
This was the society that shaped Pearl’s perceptions and aspirations and which gave her the first heady taste of the adult world. Like everyone else of her generation she could have had no idea of the changes in store, but simply accepted the way of life and all that it offered.
Her hopes for the future were destroyed when the young Guards officer she fell in love with, who proposed to her in a letter from the Western Front, was killed on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916.
But four years later, her life took an unexpected turn when Pearl met John Montagu at a fashionable resort in the south of France in 1920. He was twice the age of the 25-year-old and a widower with two daughters who needed a male heir to the Beaulieu Estate. After a whirlwind courtship, John proposed to Pearl in Kensington Gardens. From Pearl’s Diary:
The courtship was brief and to the point – there are no references to dancing with John as Pearl had danced with Harry but instead detailed descriptions of the serious business of transforming Miss Crake into Lady Montagu, complete with all the appropriate accessories. She was not only becoming the wife of John Montagu but taking on the role as châtelaine of Beaulieu.
For neither Pearl nor John was this first love, but rather a contract which was to form the foundation for a different kind of love and fulfilment. Despite the difference in age and experience they shared a common bond in that they had known both the joy of intense love, and as well as the anguish of loss.
The arrival of the young Pearl Montagu at Palace House after a fashionable London wedding was a significant event in the history of the Beaulieu Estate. On her betrothal, Pearl committed herself utterly to John and his estate. The girl who had loved dancing and socialising became the lady of the manor who willingly undertook all that was expected of her in rural Hampshire. She managed the household domestic staff, immersed herself in the life of the estate, took on the responsibility of entertaining John’s many friends, travelled extensively with her husband and, over the space of seven years, produced four children including the longed-for son and heir.
Pearl’s letter to John in May 1928 reveals the depth of their happiness together:
My very own, never to be forgotten was our wondrous few days together, my love – I shall always remember it.
John’s untimely death in spring 1929 was far more than a personal tragedy for his wife and young family. The economic uncertainty of the time put the future of the Beaulieu Estate in doubt but Pearl’s resolution ensured its survival. From Pearl’s Diary:
Her own feelings of desolation and grief were a deeply painful contrast to the knowledge of the huge task that lay before her – a task that would require all her energies –
‘Slept all right till 6.15, that time before I am called at 7.30 is so awful. The overwhelming sorrow and the fearful feeling of inadequacy but buoyed up by his complete confidence in me. May God help me to be worth of such a trust.’
She was not found wanting. In the foreword, her great-nephew James Crathorne said: “Pearl’s courage and determination pulled her through and with the help of those around her she triumphed over tragedy. She steered Beaulieu through the difficult times of the Great Depression and the Second World War and so was able to hand the Beaulieu Estate over to Edward Montagu on his 25th birthday in 1951.
“By the time Pearl died in 1996 (at the age of 101) she had 18 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. Her obituary in The Daily Telegraph described her ‘energy and delight in the moment’, qualities that I well remember. She was an inspirational and influential person in many people’s lives, including my own.”
In the afterword, the present Lord Montagu said: “Although Pearl did not realise it whilst John was alive, she unwittingly became his understudy, absorbing knowledge of Beaulieu that would be essential in the years ahead when she had to make decisions for the good of the family and the estate. It wasn’t just factual knowledge but a sense of John’s values as a father and Lord of the Manor. Best summed up in his motto ‘I belong to Beaulieu, not Beaulieu belongs to me’, this fine ideal nevertheless had to be tempered by economic realities. The stock market crash in October 1929 wasn’t mentioned in Pearl’s diary, but its consequences for the national economy and for the estate could not be avoided.
“The financial and administrative burdens following John’s death were very considerable. A lesser person might have withdrawn from both this and the role of family figurehead, preferring the easy route of selling up, or becoming an absentee landlord, but Pearl committed herself to bringing up her children at Beaulieu and ensuring the survival of the estate. This demanded many years of struggle and frugality but, against the odds, and at a time when other estate owners were forced to sell land, the Beaulieu Estate remained intact to be inherited in 1951 by her son, my father, Edward Montagu.
“What happened in the intervening 22 years is another story, but the legacy lives on in Beaulieu today, all of which flows from Pearl’s formative years and that little golden era with John that began in August 1920.”
Pearl’s Diary 1906-1930, The Life and Times of Pearl, Lady Montagu of Beaulieu is on sale from the Beaulieu attraction gift shop at £14.99 paperback and £29.99 hardback plus p&p. Order by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for more information.