Obituaries for Lady Mollie Ponsonby (née Robley)

Daily Telegraph. Tuesday, April 22, 2003


Ponsonby.-Lady Mollie on 18th April 2003, in her 102nd year, much loved widow of Maj. Gen. Sir John Ponsonby,K.C.B., C.M.G.,D.S.O., of Haile Hall, Cumbria. Funeral on 24th of April in Haile Church, at 1.30 p.m. Family flowers only please, donations, if wished, to the British Red Cross Society (Cumbria Branch), Woolpack Yard, Stricklandgate, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4NG.

Independent, 24 April 2003

Mollie Ponsonby

Preserver of the memory of the military Ponsonbys at Haile Hall

MOLLIE PONSONBY was 101 when she died but, through her marriage, she had spanned three centuries. Her grandfather-in-law had fought at the battle of Waterloo. She used to say that her husband had belonged to the age of port, whereas she belonged to the age of cocktails.

Mary (Mollie) Robley married Major-General Sir John Ponsonby, late Coldstream Guards, when he was Colonel of the Suffolk Regiment, in 1935. Her husband had been born in 1866; she was 34. Their marriage ended with his death in 1962, after which she continued to live in an ancient property of the Ponsonby family which he had bought back, Haile Hall. She recalled that he had proposed within three weeks of their meeting but she had kept him waiting for five years, as she had to look after her widowed mother.

Her father, Thomas Robley, of near-by Beckermet, in west Cumbria, had died catching salmon - of a heart attack when she was one. She always wondered whether he had landed it.

Haile Hall, with its separate gate-house, is dated by Pevesner to the late 10th century, but it seems immemorial, despite the proximity of the nuclear power plant at Sellafield. It retains an aura of a former remote England. This is partly because the house, in the care of its long-lived chatelaine, retained the flavour of the inter-war period. Its four-gabled facade was broken by a large handsome Venetian window, which illuminated the library on the first floor. Inside, the passages were dark, the back premises ancient and unchanged.

It was a shrine to the Guards regiments in which not only her husband had served but also his father, Sir Henry Ponsonby, a Colonel in the Grenadier Guards, then an equerry to the Prince Consort and from 1870 to 1895, Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. Sir John's grandfather Maj.-Gen. Sir Frederick Ponsonby had commanded the 12th Light Dragoons in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, where he was severely wounded. He was the second son of the third Earl of Bessborough, (the Ponsonbys of Haile settled in Ireland in the 17th century).

Mollie Ponsonby's regimental collection was of great interest to military historians, to whom she gave generous access. She continued to do things in a quiet, old fashioned style until all the silver - including a replica of the Duke of Wellington's Peninsular War canteen - was stolen to the great distress of her maids, and she could no longer entertain. She still worked in the garden at Haile into her nineties.

"I never thought I'd live so long," she said in 1996, recalling the abdication of King Edward VIII, next to which the problem of the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales seemed of minor importance.

Mollie Ponsonby's memory will be cherished because she was blessed with her husband's gallantry and sense of humour, a gaiety and indomitable spirit, which carried her, uncomplaining, through more than 50 years of widowhood.

Her generosity will be seen in her dispositions with regard to Haile Hall, its military collections and her husband's diaries of the First World War, which she has bequeathed to the Coldstream Guards.

Ian Lowe

Mary Robley, born 3 July 1901, married 1935, Maj.-Gen. Sir John Ponsonby (died 1962), died Kirksanton, Cumbria 18 April 2003.

Whitehaven News

Lady Ponsonby dies aged 101

"Charismatic, diplomatic and wonderfully humorous"

The funeral is being held today of one of West Cumbria's leading figures, Mollie, Lady Ponsonby.

She died on Good Friday, April 18, at the age of 101.

Lady Ponsonby was well known for her charismatic personality, wonderful sense of humour and great community spirit.

She was born on July 3 1901 and grew up in Beckermet along with her other family members.

She married Major-General Sir John Ponsonby in 1935.

Sir John purchased Haile Hall from another branch of the Ponsonby family, and it has been in the family since the 16th century.

The couple enjoyed 15 years of married life there and travelled all over the world visiting friends. Sir John, whose father had been Queen Victoria's private secretary, died in 1961 and Lady Ponsonby continued to live at Haile Hall for the remainder of her life.

A keen and lifelong gardener, she was a founder president of the Lakeland Horticultural Society and she often opened the azalea and rhododendron garden at Haile Hall, to raise money for the Red Cross.

A Red Cross member since 1919, Lady Ponsonby served in the organisation during WW2, and was commandant of the 3rd Detachment. She became its Divisional President of West Cumbria, from 1964-74, and held the Red Cross Badge of Honour.

She also launched the Red Cross shop in Whitehaven Hospital and, true to character, insisted that the profits made there were spent on equipment at Whitehaven, and not sent to Red Cross HQ.

She was president of Whitehaven and District RNLI for 10 years and was a member of the Haile Church Council from 1938 until 1972.

She also had strong connections with the Cumberland Nurses Benevolent Fund, the NSPCC and the WRVS.

Lady Ponsonby's niece, Virginia Phipps, who grew up in Beckermet and now lives out of the area, said her aunt had a great sense of humour and was very good at meetings because she was so diplomatic.

"She had millions of friends, many of whom she had outlived", said Virginia.

Lady Ponsonby lived at her beloved home until just before last Christmas when she broke her hip and went to live at The Croft Nursing Home, Kirksanton.

"Up until then she had a rota of people looking after her, including Cumbria Care, they all said it wasn't like coming to work, and that it was a pleasure because she was such a charismatic character", said Virginia.

During her widowed life, Lady Ponsonby spent much time with the late Lizzie Thirlwell and Nora Dixon who helped her with housekeeping, gardening and driving, but most of all they were her companions of whom she spoke of very highly.

Lady Ponsonby's funeral service will be held today at 1.30pm, at Haile Church.

She is to be buried next to her husband. Lady Ponsonby is survived by nieces, nephews and godchildren.

The Funeral Service

Lady Ponsonby's nephew, John Robley of Lesmurdie, Western Australia, said that his aunt had left written instructions for the service, and that she chose the hymns herself. The hymns were, "Dear Lord and Father of mankind", "Praise my soul, the King of heaven" and "The Day thou gavest, Lord is ended".