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Helene Leigh and Marie Campbell: Swapping Dollars for Titles

Norma Hampson introduces us to two American women, Helene Leigh and Marie Campbell, who married into English nobility and transformed Stoneleigh Abbey.

Norma Hampson
Helene Leigh
Helene Leigh (portrait displayed in the Gilt Hall, Stoneleigh Abbey)

Helene Leigh, first wife of Francis Dudley 3rd Baron Leigh

At the coronation of Edward VII, it was reported that thirteen of the peeresses present were American born.[1] Francis Dudley Leigh, later 3rd Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh was one of the first to go down this road: on 29 November 1890 he married Frances Helene Forbes Beckwith, daughter of Nelson Beckwith, an eminent New York business man engaged in the import/export trade whose estate was valued at $1 million.[2] 

In a letter, dated 1 December 1890, to Lord Leigh regarding his son’s marriage settlement, his solicitors, H.J.Boodle, of Boodle Hatfield & Co. explained:

Prior to her marriage, Mrs Dudley Leigh signed the settlement whereby she directed her Trustees to pay to Mr Dudley Leigh £2,000 a year during your Lordship’s life and £1,000 a year afterwards.  After Mrs Dudley Leigh’s death the whole of the income goes to Mr Dudley for his life then the capital goes to the children of the marriage.[3]

Having been considered a ‘belle’ at Napoleon III’s court when her father was the United States Minister to France, this marriage caused surprise in New York circles particularly as at 43 years of age she was eight years older than her husband and not likely to produce an heir.[4]

During the agricultural depression of the late 19th century the Leigh family of Stoneleigh Abbey, like many other landed gentry, faced a substantial drop in income.

On his succession to the title in 1905, the 3rd Baron inherited a debt of £92,000 upon the estate.[5] With modern conveniences left behind, Helene attempted to introduce some additional comforts within the Abbey. A large closet was converted to hold a bathtub to afford her privacy from the prying eyes of servants.[6]  Electricity was not installed until 1911, two years after her death. According to the Electrical Review, this installation not only supplied lighting for the Abbey but drove the farm and estate machinery and provided a novel and effective system of fire protection.[7]

Helene died on the 28 April 1909 and was buried in the family vault in the Leigh Chapel in St. Mary the Virgin, Stoneleigh.  A plaque to her memory is in the Leigh Chapel within the church.  Francis Dudley inherited her entire fortune of £231,642.

invitation DR18/26/5/98
Printed invitation from Mr. Beckwith to the marriage of his sister [Frances Helene] to Dudley Leigh (DR18/26/5/98)

Marie Campbell second wife of Francis Dudley third Baron Leigh

Born 4 February 1892 in Brooklyn, New York, daughter of Alexander Campbell, Marie Campbell married Francis Dudley at St. George, Hanover Square, London on 2 October 1923. In spite of the age difference they ‘achieved perfect happiness and what is so important in married life they were good companions.’ [8]

In spite of his inheritance Francis found himself, by the 1920s, in financial difficulties and following an acrimonious exchange with his agent decided to run the estate himself and appointed his wife Marie as his agent. After his death in 1938 Marie was credited in most obituaries with the conservation of the estate ‘in spite of huge taxation.’

Marie spent her widowhood at the Leigh London home, 31 Grosvenor Square, where she died on 13 March 1949. She chose to be cremated but a plaque to her memory is in the Leigh Chapel in Stoneleigh church.[9]

Marie Campbell second wife of Francis Dudley third Baron Leigh
Marie Campbell (photograph from an album held at Stoneleigh Abbey)

[1] SCLA, DR823/11, scrapbook, p.85

[2] McColl, G & Wallace, C, To Marry an English Lord, New York, 1989, p.76

[3] SCLA DR671/391

[4] McColl & Wallace, p.323

[5] Hampson, N, Warwickshire History, Vol.XIII, No.6, Winter 2007/8, p.244

[6] McColl & Wallace 

[7] SCLA, DR962/33 news cutting from the Electrical Review, Vol.71, No.1823, 1 November 1912

[8] Macdonald, M, Stoneleigh Abbey, The House, Its Owners, Its Lands, p.162

[9] Stoneleigh History Society

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