The Magnificent Marquis!

Most people reading this blog will have heard of Kilburn Grange Park, but not everyone will know there once was a large house called ‘The Grange’, facing Kilburn High Road. The present Park covers what remains of its grounds. Dick and Marianne have been researching the history of Kilburn and West Hampstead for over thirty years, and a chance discovery of a book in a second-hand store revealed a reference in the index to ‘Mrs Peters of Kilburn’. They knew she was a very wealthy widow who lived at The Grange. But why was she included in a history of the Romano’s Café on the Strand? It turned out Romano’s was a favourite hangout of her lover, the Marquis de Leuville.

Many books and articles refer to this property’s great age and past glories, but all these claims are wrong. The Grange was a purpose built mansion, completed by January 1831 on a site never before used for building. 1843 saw the arrival of the Peters family, who owned and added to the house over sixty years. Thomas Peters was a wealthy coachbuilder who made coaches for Queen Victoria. Following his death in 1862, his eldest son, John Winpenny Peters took over and married Ada Britannia Beckers the following year. Ada was much younger than her husband and inherited the property when John died in 1882.
The Grange, Kilburn (Camden Local Studies Archive)

The Marquis and Mrs Peters met for the first time in August 1885. She was holding a garden party at The Grange, and he wasn’t a guest, but hired for the occasion to help entertain the many people who came to enjoy her hospitality. During the evening he recited two poems: Robert Browning’s ‘How they brought the good news from Ghent’ and some lines written by one of the guests. Ada entertained the guests and played the harp.
The Kilburn Times reported on the event:
Favoured by splendid weather, Mrs Peters had a delightful garden party on Saturday afternoon. Nearly 300 invitations had been sent out. There was the best opportunity for enjoyment by all, whether in the exercise of the lawn tennis ground, or in promenading within sight of Dan Godfrey and his band of Grenadier Guards, or in roaming about the ample and beautiful grounds, or in quietly sitting within the shelter of the numerous umbrella tents that skirted the lawn. Many of the company took the opportunity of viewing the choice collection of works of art and mementoes of visits to Italy and other parts of the Continent. In the evening, a concert was given under the able direction of Mr Sidney Smith, (another Kilburn resident). 
Ada Peters at her harp

The Marquis was a tall, good looking, charismatic man and Ada was very attracted by him and they began a long affair. The Marquis didn’t get involved in many local events, other than playing an increasingly prominent role in social events at The Grange. He also supported Ada’s campaign to prevent the Kingsgate Road School being built on the edge of her property.
Why didn’t the Marquis marry his Kilburn widow? To under stand this, it’s necessary to back track to 1870, when John and Ada’s daughter Pauline fell ill with scarlet fever. This was highly contagious and at the time, usually fatal. Children were kept isolated, and their toys burned for fear of spreading the infection. Pauline was nursed at The Grange where she died on the 26th April, only six days after contracting the disease. Pauline was destined to be the couple’s only child and John was particularly affected by her death. When Ada was widowed, she inherited a small fortune, along with a large empty house and nothing to do with her time. But under the terms of John’s will (quite common among wealthy families), Ada occupied the property as a ‘tenant for life.’ This meant she could enjoy it so long as she didn’t remarry. If she did, almost everything reverted to the Peters family. So she took the Marquis as her lover.
The more we researched de Leuville, the more we wanted to write his life story. We found out he was a Victorian poet, adventurer and lover of women. Given half a chance he’d issue a challenge to a duel over an insult to a lady. Chivalric values informed his life. Interesting conversationalist or pompous fool, fascinating companion or opinionated dandy, it all depended on who you were, and what you wanted from the Marquis. But he was never, never boring. Famous during his lifetime, he took the secret of his identity to his grave.

 After many years of research our biography, ‘The Marquis de Leuville; a Victorian Fraud?’ is now published as an ebook by The History Press, and we can reveal his fascinating story and who he really was.
The ebook can be downloaded to Kindle and the I-Pad. With a free Kindle Ap or Mobi Reader it can also be read on a PC or other computer. The ebook is available now from Amazon and other ebook sites.