Many residents of North Cardiganshire will fondly remember Marjorie Pryse, better known as Lady Pryse - a tough, no nonsense character with a wicked sense of humour. She was born under mysterious circumstances, adopted into ‘nouveau riche’ wealth, and was educated and well-travelled in her youth. In her early 30s, her love of hunting caught the eye of a Baronet more than twice her age and she married into one of Cardiganshire’s oldest landed families which, by then, had fallen on hard times. She served as Master of the Gogerddan Hunt before finally ending her days in poverty.



What, then, of these mysterious beginnings? Gwendoline Marjorie was born in 1906 to Elsie Maud Thomson. Her husband, W. Edward Thomson, subsequently adopted Marjorie, suggesting that she was illegitimate. In 1909, for reasons unknown, she was adopted by David and Gertrude Howell of Plas Cwmcynfelin, Llangorwen. Unusually, and illegally, Marjorie’s birth had never been registered and she was later given, by Court Order, a birth date of 22 December 1906. David and Gertrude Howell had no children of their own, which meant that Marjorie was heiress to a substantial fortune.


David Howell was born in Llanbrynmair, Montgomeryshire into modest beginnings. Aged sixteen, he was apprenticed to Joel Evans, an Aberystwyth draper. On the death of Evans, Howell took on the business, moving to the opposite side of Great Darkgate Street where his shop, Howells, continued into the 1990s before becoming Mackays and, subsequently, M&Co. Howell became extremely wealthy and, in 1900, he was able to purchase the Plas Cwmcynfelin estate. Gertrude Howell died in 1915, followed by David in 1919.
 Thirteen year old Marjorie became an extremely wealthy orphan, with her fortune tied up in trust funds during her minority. Plas Cwmcynfelin and the estate were sold in 1920 and the young Marjorie was chaperoned by a companion named Tassie Hartley, attending school in Aberystwyth. In time, Marjorie was sent to the exclusive St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, excelling in music and becoming friends with the future actress, Celia Johnson. She later attended the Conservatoire de Paris finishing school, where she became fluent in French and German, before travelling through Europe in a Jaguar, living in Poland, Hungary and Italy where she socialised in high society and became drawn towards the bohemian lifestyle of musicians and artists.
In early 2016, over 250 letters were discovered in the Gogerddan collection at the National Library of Wales, written, in French, to Marjorie from the Polish concert pianist, Auguste de Radwan (1867-1957). The couple met in 1926 whilst twenty year old Marjorie was studying at the Conservatoire de Paris and had asked Radwan for his autograph. It was to be the start of a ten year love affair between Marjorie and the pianist, who was almost forty years her senior. The letters, along with Marjorie’s diaries, describe, and bring to life, Paris at that time.

 

 

 


Marjorie returned to Cardiganshire on a regular basis, where she rode with the Gogerddan Hunt, one of the oldest family hunts in the country. At this time, the Master of the Hunt was Sir Lewes Pryse, 3rd Baronet of Gogerddan, whose family had lived at Gogerddan since around 1490, the house becoming the focal point for an estate in excess of 30,000 acres. Sir Lewes was captivated by the young Marjorie but, having been born in 1864, was older even than Radwan. He was also married; his wife, Lady Madeleine, being a member of an old Pembrokeshire landed family. In 1930, he made Marjorie Joint Master alongside himself and she took on the tenancy of Ffynnon Caradog, a Gogerddan property between Comins Coch and Bow Street. In 1934, Sir Lewes’s only child and heir, John Howell Loveden Pryse, known as Jack, died in reduced circumstances in Spain, apparently on the run from police. The devastated Sir Lewes became more and more despondent, threatening to sell off family heirlooms and even Gogerddan itself, to the horror of his family which included his sister, Margaret Powell of Nanteos. The estate was shrinking in size as land and property was sold in an attempt to keep it solvent. Finally, things came to a head and, in 1938, Sir Lewes divorced Lady Madeleine and, aged 74, immediately announced his engagement to the 32 year old Marjorie. The wedding took place in the November, the witness being huntsman, Ceredig Davies. Despite the controversy which must have appalled the Pryse family, the tenants presented the couple with a large solid silver figure of a running fox, together with a silver salver, on which was inscribed the Pryse coat of arms.
For eight years the couple lived at Gogerddan, entertaining and riding to hounds until, in 1946, the 82 year old Sir Lewes died. The title and estate passed to his brother, Captain George Rice Pryse-Saunders who, at 76, moved into Gogerddan, before dying two years later. Meanwhile, Marjorie, now the Dowager Lady Pryse, returned to Ffynnon Caradog, becoming sole Master of the Hunt. She continued to ride with the Gogerddan Hunt until 1976, after which she followed on foot until she turned 80, remaining a popular figure, highly respected in the local agricultural community. At Ffynnon Caradog, itself a small country residence, she kept the Gogerddan hounds and the house was filled with furniture and chattels from both Gogerddan and Cwmcynfelin. Following the death of her brother-in-law, Sir George, in 1948, the estate and Baronetcy had passed to his only son, Sir Pryse Loveden Saunders-Pryse. Sir Pryse quickly decided to unshackle himself from his inheritance and sold Gogerddan, the home farm and remaining estate to the University of Wales in 1950. He retired to Glanrhydw, one of the Carmarthenshire estates to which his mother had been a co-heiress, and died in 1962. Due to a lack of a male heir, the Baronetcy became extinct.
Meanwhile, Marjorie’s circumstances gradually declined. The Howell fortune had long gone and the furniture and heirlooms were gradually sold, often for a fraction of their value. It is said that on a number of occasions she was the victim of unscrupulous buyers. Eventually forced to leave Ffynnon Caradog, Marjorie found herself living in reduced circumstances in a cottage in Bontgoch. It seems that the family trust, Pryse Settled Estates, could do little to help, as the number of Pryse descendants expecting, or entitled to, life annuities drained their finances.. In 1984, the collection of family portraits were sold to the National Library of Wales.Following a stay in hospital, Marjorie was forced to move into a residential home in Bow Street. Her final illness took hold and she died in October, 1993 aged 84.She was laid to rest with her beloved Lewes in the Pryse family burial ground in the Churchyard of St John’s Church, Penrhyncoch, which had been built by the family in 1881 and where she had been Vicar’s Warden. On her death, Cardiganshire had lost one of its genuine characters and a link with the past had been broken.

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