When Archibald Kennedy, the 1st Marquis of Ailsa, bought Lacy House in Twickenham Park in 1830 he probably knew of its previous illustrious owners. James Lacy, co-owner of the Drury Lane Theatre, the Hon. Sir Edward Walpole, his daughter Laura who was the widow of the Bishop of Exeter, the Earl of Warwick and the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan had all lived there.
Confronted with this impressive history Archibald Kennedy’s reaction was immediate. He pulled the house down and built a new one on the site. He also gave it a new name. This may have been bad for the memory of Lacy and Laura and Walpole and Warwick and Sheridan but it was certainly good for those of us who live here today – because the name he chose was “St Margarets.”
There are at least ten St Margarets that Archibald could have chosen from but being a Scotsman his patriotic choice was St Margaret, Queen of Scotland. As well as being the only royal Scottish saint, she was a caring woman whose intelligence and humanity are still remembered and respected to this day. She was born in 1045 at the Castle Réka, Mecseknadasd in Hungary and married Malcolm 3rd, King of the Scots. It was a happy marriage and together Margaret and Malcolm had six sons and two daughters. She was a caring administrator and a devout Christian, rising at midnight to attend church services and feeding the poor and orphans every day.
“Every morning at the first hour of the day (though she had already spent many hours in prayer and the saying of the Psalms) nine little orphans were brought to her…She did not think it beneath her to take them upon her knee and to get their pap ready for them and this she used to put into their mouths with the spoon which she herself used..The Queen did this act of charity for the sake of Christ, as one of Christ’s servants.”
Margaret died in 1093, just three days after the death of her husband and her eldest son in battle. In 1250 Margaret was canonised by Pope Innocent 4th on account of her personal holiness and fidelity to the Church. A number of miracles had also been ascribed to her name although her Latin biographer records only one.
MIRACLE ONE – QUEEN MARGARET’S GOSPEL
Queen Margaret had a personal gospel of which she was particularly fond. It was lavishly decorated and illustrated with figures of the four evangelists dressed and coloured in English style. King Malcolm liked the book too. Although he couldn’t read he saw it as a symbol of his wife’s Christian devotion and study and would enjoy simply holding the book. Whenever they travelled a priest would carry the gospel tucked into the folds of his habit. One day on a journey Margaret asked for the book – but the priest had lost it. A soldier was sent back and he found it floating in a stream. Surprisingly the book was totally unmarked by its immersion in the water – and this was counted as a miracle…
“To every-one’s intense surprise, the beautiful volume was entirely uninjured, except two leaves, which you see at each end, in which a slight contraction appears from the effect of the water, which testify the work of Christ in protecting the sacred volume. May the King and pious Queen be saved for ever, whose book was but now saved from the waves!”
St Margarets Gospel book survives to this day in the Bodleian Library, battered by the years, but apart from some slight staining is unmarked by its fall into the stream.
MIRACLE TWO – THE FLASHES OF LIGHT
After Queen Margaret died in 1093 she was buried in Dunfermline Abbey and quietly rested there until 1245 when a second miraculous event took place. Brilliant flashes of light were seen coming from the tomb of the ‘blessed Margaret’. These were investigated by the Bishops of St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane as possible proof of Margaret’s sanctity. Unfortunately these three worthy gentlemen forgot to record either the names or statements of the witnesses to these events. Unconvinced the Pope turned down their application to have Margaret canonised. The Lord Abbot of Dunfermline, with a keen eye on the profits to be gained from having a real saint buried in his Abbey, tried again. He asked the Cardinal to take a second look at the case – and after further discussion with the Bishop of St Andrews – persuaded Pope Innocent 4th that the miraculous flashes of light at the tomb of the ‘blessed Margaret’ were genuine. The Pope finally agreed and on 15th October 1249 Queen Margaret was canonised and made a saint.
With pilgrims now pouring in to Dunfermline Abbey to visit the tomb of St. Margaret and increased revenues it was decided to move her to a new tomb in the Lady Aisle.
MIRACLE THREE – THE ODOUR OF SANCTITY
On 13th July, 1250, the “sainted remains” of Margaret were exhumed in presence of the young King, Alexander 3rd, his mother, and numerous Bishops, Abbots, Priests, and Nobility of the kingdom, and laid on a consecrated bier. At this point a third ‘miracle’ occurred as recorded by the writer Fordun…
“At the digging of the ground so great and agreeable a perfume arose, that the whole of that sanctuary was thought to be sprinkled with painters’ colours, and the scent of springing flowers.”
And there was more to come.
MIRACLE FOUR – THE INCREASED WEIGHT OF THE CONSECRATED BIER
When the bier carrying St. Margaret’s body passed by the tomb of her husband Malcolm…
“The arms of the bearers were immediately benumbed, and they could not convey the shrine with the relics further, on account of the greatness of the weight; but, whether willing or not, they were obliged to halt, and speedily laid down their burden….At length, all wondering, and judging themselves unworthy of so precious a trust, the voice of a bystander, divinely inspired, as was believed, was heard suggesting distinctly, that the bones of the holy Queen could not be transferred further until the tomb of her husband was opened, and his body raised with similar honour.”
With the approval of the King Alexander 3rd Malcolm’s tomb was immediately opened and his bones placed with those of his beloved wife in her new tomb.
They were not destined to spend the rest of eternity together. During the Reformation St. Margaret’s head came into the possession of Mary Queen of Scots and was later secured by the Jesuits at Douai. They lost it during the French Revolution. The rest of the relics, including what was left of Malcolm, were acquired in the 1550’s by Phillip 2nd of Spain. When Bishop Gilles of Edinburgh asked for them back they could not be found… and that was that.
“St Margarets” – the house built in 1830 for Archibald Kennedy, the 1st Marquis of Ailsa, didn’t fare much better. It was pulled down in 1853 by the 2nd Earl of Kilmorey and a new building, Kilmorey House, was built in its place. After spending some time as the Royal Naval School for Girls it too was demolished in 1950.
Whether the saving of Queen Margaret’s Gospel from immersion or the flashes of light from her tomb or the smell of perfume or the sudden increase of weight of her bier were miracles or just cynical stunts set up by the Lord Abbot of Dunfermline to increase visitor numbers we will never know. What is true is that without St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, or Archibald Kennedy who chose her name for his new house we might all now be living in “Lacy” – and that is a relief and a miracle in itself.
January 1814 was one of the coldest months on record. The temperature in Richmond did not rise above freezing for 16 consecutive days and nights.
— from Martyn Day