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Stichill Scotland

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Information on the village of Stichill, near Kelso in Scotland.

Lillie Langtry
The "Jersey Lily" and George Baird of Stichill

Lillie Langtry
Lillie Langtry

Born, Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, in St Saviour on the island of Jersey on October 13th 1853, her father William Corbet Le Breton was the Dean of Jersey and Rector of St Saviours. Stories are plenty about the 'Dean', known locally as 'The Dirty Dean'. Indeed, he was obliged to bring the very first of all Lillie's romances to an abrupt conclusion when she became enamoured of her own half-brother!
Lillie was brought up with her father, mother and six brothers. She stayed in Jersey until her first marriage in March 1874, when she married Edward Langtry, a wealthy Irish landowner. Her father performed the service, and after an informal wedding supper, the couple sailed away in their own liner, 'Red Gauntlet'.
Her first home was in Eaton Place, Belgravia; a very fashionable address. Lillie soon joined the society set and met a large number of the intellectuals of the time, of whom, Oscar Wilde was probably the most famous. Soon, she was asked to sit for a portrait by Everett Millais, the resulting work being nominated 'Picture of the Year' at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1874. Others were clamouring to paint her, including James Whistler. By 1877, copies of her portrait were on sale all over London. Postcards appeared and she became the first 'pin-up'. She was also among the first to endorse commercial products, her near perfect complexion being ideal for Pears Soap.
It was after seeing one of her portraits that the future Edward VII arranged to meet her. A renowned womaniser, she was soon persuaded to become his mistress. She even managed to become a friend of Bertie's wife, Princess Alexandra, but never of his mother, Queen Victoria.
By the time Edward Langtry went bankrupt in 1879, the Prince of Wales and Lillie had found other suitors, with many seeking her hand in marriage, though still married to Langtry, who refused to divorce her. Her latest escort was Prince Louis of Battenberg, Bertie's nephew.
They carried on a passionate affair for two years, but when she became pregnant, she left for France to avoid a scandal. Her daughter Jeanne-Marie was born in 1881.
When she returned to England, Lillie turned he attention to finding a way to support herself, and with the help of Sarah Bernhardt, she made her theatrical debut in 1882. Her notoriety, with her name being a household word, meant that the theatre was packed out every night, and within two years she had founded her own company. After a string of successful performances, she decided to take her company to America. Her relationship with the heir to the British throne preceded her across the Atlantic, and on arrival everyone wanted to see her. Her hats, clothes and hairstyles were copied across the country.
For five years she toured America, from coast to coast. She even managed to divorce Edward while there, claiming he had deserted her!
Back in England in 1890, Lillie began to develop an interest in horse racing. She became friends with Lord Hugh Lonsdale and George Chetwynd, and through them met the Scottish millionaire George Baird who owned a stable of thoroughbreds. He was an obsessively jealous and brutal man, who beat her frequently, but would pay her '5000 remorse money' afterwards. In this way she came to own a fine chestnut colt named 'Milford', who won his maiden race at Kempton Park. She was able to refuse the offer of 10,000 for him after he won the Royal Two Year Old Plate. Lillie, at this time, was living in Pont Street, London while at the other end of the same street stood St Columba's Church, the Scots Kirk, which had been built with a very generous donation from George's uncle, James.
In the autumn of 1891, George Baird, known as 'The Squire', returned to Scotland, as he usually did at that time of year, for the racing at Ayr, but, on this occasion, he came to follow Lillie on her tour of the north. When Lillie had finished her tour, she went back down to London, while George stayed on for the shooting.
No sooner had she returned to London, than she met up with Robert Peel, who had fallen for her in a big way. He persuaded her to go off to Paris with him - she saw the chance to shop in the Paris Fashion Houses at his expense. When the Squire got back to London, and found she had gone off to Paris, he immediately went in pursuit. He beat Lillie so severely that she ended up, bloody, battered and bruised, in hospital for two weeks, nursing two black eyes, a swollen nose and covered in weals. He also tore all her clothing to shreds and smashed up the hotel room. A warrant for the arrest of the Squire was issued by the gendarmes, but, as it happened, he was already in the cells following another fracas at the brothel to which he had gone after the assault at the hotel.
To the utter amazement of everybody involved, Lillie refused to press charges, and George was released. He made his peace with the hotel by paying for the damage he had caused, and Lillie, he pacified, by paying her 50,000 and a yacht which he had recently bought. Lillie named it 'Whyte Lady', but to everybody else it was known as 'Black Eye'.
In 1897, Lillie met Hugo de Bathe, and despite their age difference, he was 26 and she was 44, they married two years later. In 1907, he became Sir Hugo on the death of his father, so Lillie achieved one of her great ambitions, she became a Lady - Lady de Bathe. Their 30 year marriage was not a happy one, as Hugo had a roving eye, and eventually, he left for South Africa, while Lillie went to live on the Riviera.
She returned to England on occasion to see her grandchildren, and, in 1910, to attend the funeral of her former lover, Edward.VII.
She died in 12th February 1929 at the age of 75, in her little villa 'Ley Lys', overlooking the Mediterranean. At the end of a life, during which she amassed millions of pounds, she had only a few thousand left.

With Lillie's association with George Baird, the Squire, it is believed that she may have visited Stichill on some occasions, but only when George's mother was not at home. In her autobiography, Lillie avoided any mention of her time with George Baird, and his name is never mentioned. Perhaps the memory, of the pain she suffered, was too much, even for Lillie.

[With thanks to the Stichill Millennium Project for the text on which this is based.]

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