This article begins by describing a mysterious brick tomb and an ancient arch erected as a memorial in the churchyard at Newton Kyme, near Tadcaster. The occupant of the tomb is Ruth Bethell (1895-1915) who, at the time of her death, lived at Newton Kyme Hall with her aunts, Marcia and Lucy Bethell. The arch and tomb were built by her father, Alfred James Bethell (1862-1920), an Army officer, banker, and financier. The article goes on to discuss Alfred Bethell, his wife Maud Bethell, and his views on divorce laws, as well as the origin of the arch and the meaning of the Latin inscription. Click on the link below to read the full article, complete with references, but no images.Alfred James Bethell

Alfred James Bethell, a Yorkshireman who Believed in Himself

Arch and tomb
Arch and tomb
In the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Newton Kyme, near Tadcaster, there is a free-standing arch of ancient appearance situated at the eastern limit of the majority of the burials. The arch is of similar stone (magnesian limestone) to that of the church and hall, and is ogee-headed, with several mouldings of different sizes. On the east side of the arch two stones protrude from each upright, suggesting that the arch was once fixed to a wall and has been re-erected in its present position. On the south upright, at eye-level, is a Latin inscription: DICT: ALFRED PATER FILIAE HOC / GEO: OP: MEDIAE FECIT. The arch is set on a brick plinth sitting on a stone base, the bricks arranged to form a lozenge shape in the centre. A shallow brick step the width of the arch, again with the bricks arranged in a simple pattern, leads to a tomb directly in front of the arch (i.e. to its west). The tomb is a low brick mound with rounded ends and top, aligned east-west, with a rectangular brick surround (now sunken in parts) with short square brick posts at the corners. Bricks on the top of the mound are laid in the shape of two diagonal crosses. The only lettering, also on the top face, reads ‘1895’ at one end, ‘RUTH’ in the centre, and ‘1915’ at the other end. There is no mention of this memorial in the history of Newton Kyme Church. This article investigates the memorial and the man who built it.

Newton Kyme Hall

Newton Kyme Hall
Newton Kyme Hall
For centuries Newton Kyme Hall was owned by the Fairfax family who lived in it until the 1870s, but in 1881 the census records a family named Wickham living there. By the time of the 1891 census the Hall was occupied by Marcia and Lucy Bethell. They were unmarried daughters of William Froggatt Bethell, of Rise Park, near Hull, a landowner, J.P., and Deputy Lieutenant for the East Riding. Marcia (also known as Maria) was born in 1842, and Lucy two years later. They lived in the Hall (it is not clear whether they owned it or were tenants) for many years and played the important part in church and village life, and in the wider area, that was expected of the principal residents of the village. Marcia was active on local charity committees; Lucy represented the parish on Tadcaster Rural District Council for thirteen years, and was the only lady member of the Board of Guardians.

The burial registers reveal that the person in the brick tomb, whose memorial this is, is Ruth Marcia Bethell, of The Hall, Newton Kyme, who was buried on 27 January 1915. She had died on 25 January 1915, aged 19, at 22, Clarendon Road, Leeds, following an operation for acute appendicitis. The death was certified by W. Thompson, FRCS. (22, Clarendon Road was presumably his consulting rooms or clinic.) It was registered by Ruth’s father, Alfred James Bethell, of The Abbey, Storrington, Sussex, who was present at the death.

Alfred James Bethell

Army Officer in Africa

Alfred Bethell, Ruth’s father, was the brother of Marcia and Lucy. He was born in 1862, the youngest of William Froggatt Bethell’s many children. His mother died in 1870, so it is likely that Marcia and Lucy, respectively twenty and eighteen years older than Alfred, to some extent filled her place in their little brother’s life. He was sent to school at Eton. His father died in 1879 and the following year Alfred passed the examination to enter Sandhurst. After Sandhurst he joined the Army as a Gentleman Cadet in the Northamptonshire Regiment. In May 1882 he was promoted to Lieutenant and in November that year was transferred to the Prince of Wales’s South Lancashire Regt. In 1885 he was posted to Sir Charles Warren’s staff in Bechuanaland (now Botswana). He was mentioned in despatches and was ‘so anxious to noise his fame abroad that on one occasion he rode horses with orders over 130 miles of sand in thirteen hours’. He was then seconded to Col. Sir Frederick Carrington as adjutant to help him raise the Bechuanaland Border Police, and negotiated treaties with African chiefs. Here he was following to some extent in the footsteps of his brother Christopher (1856-84), a hunter and trader with an African wife, who as an official British emissary to the Barolong urged the British authorities to extend their protection to the tribe against incursions by the Boers. He was brutally murdered in July 1884 in an encounter with mercenaries from the Transvaal republic whilst attempting to defend the territory of the Barolong.

In March 1886 Alfred Bethell was sent from Mafeking to Shoshong (at the time an important trading town in Bechuanaland) on a mission to its chief, Khama. There he was joined in May by Col. Carrington and others for a shooting trip along the Zambesi. Bethell obtained leave to press on to see the Victoria Falls, accompanied by just one trooper, named Ayton. Although they reached the Falls, the return journey ended, after many adventures, with the horses dead from thirst and the two Englishmen in a parlous condition, having walked 400 miles through almost unexplored country. To be more accurate, the trooper walked but Alfred, suffering from a severe abscess on his foot, had to be carried by the porters the last few days. That probably saved his life. Trooper Ayton, on whom all the work of managing the Africans, caring for Bethell, and hunting for food, had latterly fallen (as Bethell himself admits), was exhausted by the many days of walking in the heat with very little water. When they finally arrived back in Shoshong, Ayton, by then dying, had to be left there, while Bethell was carried back to Mafeking, where he arrived in late August. Friends of his there and in England had been alarmed by rumours that he had been murdered by natives, two years after his brother Christopher had met a similar fate at the hands of the Boers. Bethell returned to England and wrote up this adventure in an article for The Field, which he later published as a privately printed book dedicated to Col. Carrington.

The book begins with advice on hunting in South Africa, the clothes and equipment required and where to obtain them, but Bethell makes it clear that anyone intending to hunt in South Africa should consult the published works of more experienced hunters. These chapters are there only to form an introduction to his adventure. Bethell’s attitudes to African people and their way of life are typical of his time and class. The naivety of his preparations for the journey to the Victoria Falls has been justly remarked upon. Bethell’s brief experience of soldiering in Africa was insufficient for a trip of such a nature without even a sketch map to guide him. The book makes little comment on that aspect, and it may be that Bethell’s main purpose in publishing it was self-publicity. It would certainly have been a talking-point in the circles in which he moved, and many would have been more impressed by the hardships he endured than by the naivety which caused them.

How successful Bethell’s Army career was in other respects is hard to judge. It was claimed that he was mentioned in despatches (three times, according to one account), but no distinctions are listed in the surviving official record of his Army service. We know nothing of the circumstances of his transfer from the regular Army to Col. Carrington’s staff. Possibly Bethell himself sought the transfer hoping for a more important and responsible role in the country where his brother Christopher had recently died. It is equally possible that Sir Charles Warren was glad of the opportunity to transfer a junior officer who showed little promise in his present role.

Whether Bethell's near-death experience led to his disenchantment with the Army, or with Africa, is not known. More likely, since we know he invested in gold mines while he was in Africa, he discovered that there were easier and safer ways of making money than an Army career. In May 1887 it was announced that he was promoted from Supernumerary Lieutenant to Lieutenant, but he then resigned his Army commission. He had no difficulty in choosing an alternative (and more lucrative) career. His mother, who had died in 1870, was the sister of Edmund Beckett, later Baron Grimthorpe, the senior partner of Beckett’s Bank, so Alfred quickly obtained a post as a banker with his cousins in Doncaster. According to an obituary, Bethell began as a banker’s clerk and after some years’ experience in the provinces became engaged in finance in London.


The Becketts’ main home was in Doncaster, in Christ Church parish, and at the time of his marriage on 30 August 1887 Alfred was also living in that parish. He married Maud Amelia Bower (b.1861), daughter of Robert Hartley Bower, a former banker, now a landowner and J.P. of Welham, near Norton, Yorkshire. Their first daughter, Esmée Violet Helen, was born at Welham in late 1888, but the family’s main residence, at any rate by 1891, was The Lodge, South Parade, Doncaster, where in that year their second child, Enid Maud, was born, followed in February 1895 by Ruth. The Bethells were making their mark in society, in both Yorkshire and London: Maud Bethell was presented at court in May 1891, not long after the birth of her daughter, and in 1892 Alfred, though only thirty, was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the West Riding. In June 1895 he was put forward as a prospective Conservative Unionist candidate for the Central Division of Bradford at the forthcoming General Election. Whether Bethell offered himself as a candidate, or was persuaded by others to stand, is unknown. The proposal drew scorn from one local columnist who, asking who this politically unknown person was, claimed that one Leeds paper denied he was a partner of the Becketts, being merely a clerk in their Doncaster office, while another stated that he had made a fortune out of incandescent light. The columnist concluded, ‘There seems to be a charming uncertainty about the status of this ambitious gentleman’. In the event, Bethell either withdrew or the local Association changed its mind, and a James Wanklyn was prevailed upon almost at the last minute to withdraw from a Scottish constituency and to stand in Bradford instead, where he was successful.

Alfred Bethell
Alfred Bethell
Although living in Doncaster, by July 1895 Bethell was sufficiently well known to be caricatured by ‘Spy’ in Vanity Fair as one of the ‘Men of the Day’. The accompanying text describes him as ‘full of go, gas, and gold, the first two by nature, the last two by acquisition, with the help of incandescent gas-lighting and South Africa’. According to the writer of this piece, Bethell, having been one of the first to recognize the value of South Africa, ‘has made his pile while yet young’. He was a member of the Naval and Military Club, had thoughts of becoming a Tory Member of Parliament, and was said to get on better with ladies than with men. The writer ends by saying, ‘He is also a Yorkshireman who believes in himself.’ The impression given is that men found Bethell (still only thirty-three) a little too full of himself and inclined to tell you too much about his own achievements.

One of the sources of Bethell’s wealth, as the writer points out, was an investment in incandescent gas lighting. Gas lighting had been widely used in towns in England since 1850, but the light came from a simple upright flame, so most of it was directed upwards and it was not very bright. In 1891, however, an Austrian, Carl Auer von Welsbach, perfected his invention of the incandescent gas mantle which provided a much brighter light and could be directed downwards. Welsbach patented his invention and formed a company to market it worldwide from 1892. On 9 February 1895 the Morning Post carried a prospectus inviting subscriptions for shares in the Austrian Incandescent Share Company Ltd. Similar notices appeared in the Leeds Mercury and in other London and regional newspapers. The purpose of the new company, which would be managed by the existing (London) Incandescent Gas Light Company, was to acquire a majority holding in Dr Welsbach’s company, with his agreement and his participation in the new company. In effect it was an agreed takeover of Dr Welsbach’s company by major shareholders in the Incandescent Gas Light Company, among them Alfred Bethell, enabling them to benefit not only from selling gas mantles in the UK without having to pay for using the patent, but also from receiving royalties from other companies worldwide who used the technology.

Gold as a source of Alfred Bethell’s wealth is not documented in the same way, but in 1886 there was a major discovery in the Witwatersrand which started a gold rush and the subsequent development of gold mining as an important industry in South Africa. Bethell for much of that year was engaged on his mission to Shoshong and his trip to the Victoria Falls and its aftermath, so he might not have been able to take advantage of any opportunity to invest in new mines. That major discovery, however, had been preceded by one or two smaller ones, so it is very probable that either before his mission in 1886 or while he was recovering from it he seized the chance to get in at the start of this new industry. That is certainly the implication of the Vanity Fair portrait.

Bethell’s home in Doncaster was in the centre of the town. In 1895, however, he acquired from a retired Army captain, Joseph Mills, a large house in the country, Middlethorpe Lodge, just south of York. The house, which had been built in 1836 for James Meek, Lord Mayor of York, had the advantage that it was just off the York-Tadcaster turnpike road, and from Tadcaster it was only a mile or so along the Tadcaster-Otley turnpike road to Bethell’s sisters’ home at Newton Kyme. The move to Middlethorpe brought easier access to country pursuits, compared with Doncaster. Although during term they were away at Roedean School in Sussex, Alfred Bethell’s two elder daughters later became well-known followers of the Bramham Moor Hunt, according to a report. Over the next few years Alfred Bethell developed his financial interests, though nothing more was heard of his political ambitions. In 1897 he joined the board of the newly-formed Trench Tubeless Tyre Company Ltd. This was a company set up to take advantage of the new fashion for cycling, so once again Bethell had invested wisely in a new and developing industry. Later that year a further consolidation of incandescent gas lighting companies took effect, from which, no doubt, he benefited further. There were probably other opportunities for shrewd investment too. Certainly by 1901 he was wealthy enough to describe himself in the census as living on his own means, whereas in 1891 his profession was given as banker.

‘The Question of English Divorce’

While his business interests prospered, Bethell’s relationship with his wife faltered. In 1903 he published anonymously a book on divorce in England. Most writers on the subject have a professional interest in it, being lawyers, legislators, or clergy, for example. Those without such a professional interest may fairly be assumed to have a personal interest. The author of this book writes cogently and it is clear that he has given the matter a good deal of consideration. He also writes with some feeling so it seems probable that he is in a marriage from which he cannot be released under the present grounds for divorce, and he writes anonymously for that reason. Alfred Bethell’s authorship of this book was not revealed until December 1918, after his wife’s death, when he stood for election to Parliament. Announcing his candidacy The Times reported that he was the author of several books, notably The Question of English Divorce. According to his obituary, the book was for some years the standard short authority on divorce, with its recommendations adopted by the Royal Commission on Divorce Law Reform.

In the book (of 175 pages) Bethell argues that the current divorce law (passed in 1857 with a slight amendment in 1895) do not treat men and women equally and do not include all the legitimate grounds for ending a marriage. For example, a man may seek divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery, but a woman may seek divorce for adultery only if it has been accompanied by persistent cruelty or desertion. It is possible for a wife living under the same roof as her husband to refuse the obligations of matrimony, though it is impossible to prove that she does. If the husband is driven by this refusal to commit adultery, she may obtain a judicial separation (though not a divorce unless he has been persistently cruel), and such a separation order has the effect of preventing his remarrying. The same applies to a voluntary separation by mutual consent. Furthermore, the grounds on which divorce may be granted do not include incompatibility of temperament. He reminds his readers that, in the upper classes especially, many marriages are, in effect, arranged by the families, and an initial attraction between the two young people can change, after some years, to indifference or even ‘unconquerable aversion’. He proposes that the law regarding the separation of the spouses (with the impossibility of remarrying) should be abolished and that the grounds for divorce should apply to both sexes equally. He sets out two possible schemes in detail, based on these principles: that no divorce law should be so wide that by its laxity it militates against the principle of marriage; and that no divorce law should be so harsh as to bring the principle of marriage into disrepute, or sexual offence into widespread toleration.

It is very likely that, on his return at the age of twenty-five after his adventures in the Army in Africa, Alfred Bethell had felt the need to establish himself in a career and find a wife, especially as both his parents were dead. Having decided, for whatever reason, not to continue in the Army (three of his brothers had military or naval careers), the choice of banking as a career was simple, given the family connections with the Becketts. As for a wife, that too seems to have been decided fairly quickly. Alfred Bethell’s engagement to Maud Bower was announced at the beginning of July 1887. He cannot have arrived back in England from Africa until late 1886 or early 1887. Although he probably knew Maud before he went to Africa, they were both under twenty then, and he is unlikely to have met her since. So the period between his return and the announcement of the engagement was quite short and unlikely to have given either party a true understanding of the other’s character and temperament, whatever the attraction between them. It may well be that, after the birth of their third child, Maud ‘refused the obligations of matrimony’, or that Alfred realized, after the initial attraction had faded, that their temperaments were incompatible. Unfortunately for him (or perhaps for both), since Maud gave him no cause, under the present law, to divorce her, and he could apparently not bring himself to commit adultery and be cruel or desert her, there was no way of legally ending the marriage.

Whatever the causes of the unhappiness in the Bethells’ marriage, they seem to have kept up the appearance of a united couple for a few years. They remained living together in Middlethorpe Lodge until 1907. Alfred Bethell probably spent time in London where he either had a second house or used his club. In 1907, however, Middlethorpe Lodge was sold to Sir John Grant Lawson. By then, the youngest daughter, Ruth, had followed her sisters to Roedean so for most of the year Middlethorpe Lodge was occupied only by the parents and, of course, their servants (eleven in 1901). Alfred then bought The Abbey, Storrington, in Sussex, and moved there. There is evidence that between selling Middlethorpe Lodge and moving to Storrington he stayed for a while at Newton Kyme. Fined 40s plus costs for speeding in October 1907 he gave Newton Kyme Hall as his address. Certainly he was at Storrington for the census in 1911, alone apart from servants. Meanwhile, also in 1907, Maud Bethell and her daughters moved to Bilbrough Grange, about halfway between York and Tadcaster, and from then husband and wife led largely separate lives, though of course they came together for events concerning their daughters.

Maud Bethell

The move to Bilbrough Grange marked the point when Maud Bethell began spending more time on charitable work as well as continuing to attend court on occasion, go to society weddings, and take part in activities like the local hunt. In the report of her funeral in January 1917, ‘a friend and co-worker’ who had known her from childhood said that since her return to York she had become Treasurer of Miss Milner’s Club and ‘helped to promote every useful and beneficial work’. ‘Miss Milner’ was Edith Harriet Milner (1845-1921) who lived at Heworth Moor House, York. Her main charitable concern was the welfare of poor children in York, through what became known as Miss Milner’s Club, or York Girls’ Club. Mrs Bethell, said the co-worker, had helped to establish the club when she was very young, and had worked at it indefatigably until her marriage. On 20 July 1907, in connection with the Selby Abbey Restoration Fund, Miss Milner brought to the Abbey a party of about fifty from her York Girls’ Club, following which they promised to collect weekly for the Fund. In early August that year Miss Milner held a Garden Fete at her home on behalf of the Restoration Fund, at which Mrs Bethell was one of those running the Foreign and Toy stall which made £39/6s/9d.

The Bethells’ eldest daughter Esmée was presented at court in August 1908, and their second daughter Enid in February 1909. The following year both girls were married at fashionable churches in London. First, Enid married Edward Lane Fox at St Saviour’s, Walton Street, Chelsea, on 4 April 1910. In the newspaper report she was described as the daughter of Mr and Mrs Alfred Bethell of Newton Kyme, Tadcaster, and 22, Cadogan Square, London. A few weeks later, on 30 April, Esmée married Hugh Stobart at St Margaret’s, Westminster. She was reported to be the daughter of Mr & Mrs Alfred Bethell of Bilbrough Grange, Yorkshire, and Newton Kyme, Tadcaster. Before Enid’s wedding she and Esmée, ‘both well-known followers of the [Bramham Moor] pack’, held an ‘At Home’ at Newton Kyme Hall, where a large number of friends viewed the presents given to Enid and her husband-to-be. This suggests that Bilbrough Grange was principally Mrs Bethell’s home, and the three daughters treated the Newton Kyme Hall as their home when they were not away at school. It would, then, have been natural for Alfred Bethell to stay at Newton Kyme Hall whenever he was in Yorkshire. Their daughters’ weddings marked the complete separation of Mr and Mrs Bethell, their names thereafter not being found together in any news reports. Funerals and weddings on Alfred’s side of the family were attended by him alone, and those at Norton by Maud Bethell on her own.

By the time of the census on 2 April 1911, Maud Bethell had moved out of Bilbrough Grange, and the London home at 22, Cadogan Square had also been vacated. Where she moved to is unknown. On census day she was not with her husband in Storrington, or with either of her married daughters (Ruth was at Roedean), or at her own family’s home in Norton. Her name is not found anywhere in that year’s census: either she was elsewhere in the country that day and her name has been mistranscribed, or she was abroad, or she was in an institution. Wherever she was in April, in early August 1911 Mrs Bethell and Ruth were in Scarborough helping to entertain boys and girls from York, many of whom had never seen the sea before. The trip was organized by Miss Milner and other supporters of the Coronation Fete. A Mr and Mrs Streicher had spent their bank holiday seeking out deserving cases, one hundred boys and one hundred girls, ‘the poorest of the poor from the poorest districts’. They started from York by train at 5.45 am. Miss Milner and other ‘devoted workers in the children’s cause’ very sensibly avoided the privations of an early start and third-class rail travel with two hundred children by taking a later train at 10 am. Mrs Bethell and Ruth together with a Miss Wright had made their own way to Scarborough some days in advance to make the arrangements, meeting the party at the station. The children (and adults) were given a sumptuous meal at the Grand Hotel Restaurant. The outing was such a success that Mrs Bethell and the bazaar committee undertook to be responsible for raising funds for what it was hoped would rival the Leeds poor children’s camp founded by Mrs Currer Briggs, who was ‘doing her best to help the York Children’s Camp’.

Maud Bethell’s charitable activities were not limited to this direct work with the beneficiaries of charities. Her name often appears as a member of the various committees (composed largely of the same names) organising charitable events such as balls in the York area (often as their secretary), frequently for more fashionable causes like military ones. She must, therefore, have lived somewhere in that area. According to the friend who spoke to the press after her funeral, she lived for two years at Heworth Moor House and often took charge of the children at the holiday camps, though it is not clear which two years were meant. In January 1914, however, Miss Milner announced that ‘in consequence of the women’s suffrage movement’ she was retiring from public life. Whether by coincidence or not, from that time Mrs Bethell’s name also ceases to appear in the newspaper reports of charity committees.

The Memorial

A year later, in January 1915, the Bethells’ youngest daughter Ruth, who was living with her aunts at Newton Kyme Hall, died in Leeds following an operation. Although Alfred Bethell was then staying at the Hall, it is unlikely that Maud Bethell was, though it may have been possible for her to be contacted in time to be at her daughter’s bedside. The funeral was held at Newton Kyme church and was attended by both parents, Ruth’s sisters and brothers-in-law, her uncles and aunts on both sides of the family, Miss Milner, and many others. The question of what form a memorial to Ruth should take must have arisen immediately. It seems most likely that the idea of the present memorial, an ancient arch leading to a brick tomb, was suggested by the ruins in the grounds of the Hall, and that Ruth’s father instigated and directed the work.

As such a memorial would have fallen outside the Churchyard Memorial Rules in force at the time, a faculty from the church authorities granting permission for it would, strictly speaking, have been required before it could be erected. The associated documentation would have included the reasons for that particular form of memorial and the origin of the arch. Unfortunately, no record of a faculty having been requested has been found, nor is there any mention of the memorial in the Parochial Church Council minutes or other parish records. It was common, however, for the owners or long-standing occupiers of Halls adjacent to churches to take a proprietary attitude towards the church and its churchyard. If the Misses Bethell had wanted an arch to be erected in the churchyard it is unlikely that the Rector would have objected or thought it necessary to seek a faculty.

The arch was obviously removed from another location and re-erected in its present position. The Hall at Newton Kyme was preceded by a medieval fortified manor house called Kyme Castle, some remains of which are still extant in the grounds of the Hall. A survey made in 2005 states that by the late medieval period the manor house or castle complex might be expected to have taken the form of a number of buildings around a courtyard which would have been developed over several hundred years. The medieval remnants of the complex were heavily ‘romanticized’ to form part of the landscape setting for the present Hall which is early 18th-century with probable 17th-century origins and early 19th-century alterations and additions.

Historic England’s National Heritage list of monuments states that ‘An ogee-headed window serving as a memorial is located in the churchyard to the south and may have originated from the manor house.’ This must refer to Ruth’s memorial, since there is no other such memorial in the churchyard.
Arch base
Arch base
The wide blocks at the feet of the uprights, however, which would be impracticable in a window, suggest that the arch is more likely to have been a doorway, and not a minor doorway. An ogee-headed arch such as this, with mouldings and ornaments, would be used as a portal to form an imposing entrance at the front door of a large house. So it was probably built at the main entrance of an earlier hall. Then, when alterations were made or an entire new hall built, it was left as part of the ruins in the grounds. The bricks making up the plinth and the step also appear ancient, and could well be the original floor of the doorway or portal.

The Latin Inscription

The Latin inscription on one side of the arch, DICT: ALFRED PATER FILIAE HOC / GEO: OP: MEDIAE FECIT, is somewhat cryptic. Besides omitting Alfred’s surname and the name of the daughter, it begins with an abbreviation, DICT:, which seems to have no connection with the rest; it might even have been added later, since the two lines of the inscription are not equal in length, and the lower line is not symmetrically placed beneath the upper one: it begins further to the right than it should. That, though, is more likely to be merely the result of its having been engraved by an inexpert person, there being no other evidence for its being added later. Certainly the letters are incised less deeply than is usual on tombstones, which may also suggest inexperience. The meanings of GEO: OP: (GEOMETRIAE or GEOMETRICUM OPUS) and MEDIAE are not immediately clear. The gist of it seems to be that ‘Alfred, her father, made this work of geometry [or, this geometrical work, presumably referring to the patterned bricks and/or to the layout of arch and tomb] for his daughter [who is] in the centre’, her grave being centrally placed in front of the arch. That, however, ignores the opening abbreviation DICT: which puzzles the many Latin scholars consulted.

‘Dictum’ can be a ‘saying’ or a ‘promise’. Dismantling the window surround from its original position in an ancient and probably semi-ruined building would not have been a simple or quick task. Getting the correct base for it and erecting it in the churchyard would have been equally demanding. Then there were the bricks which formed both the floor of the arch and the tomb itself and its surrounding area: they too seem ancient and would have had to be dug out carefully from wherever they were before being laid in a pattern. One can easily imagine the rest of the family openly doubting the possibility of success and urging Alfred to drop the idea in favour of a more traditional memorial. Alfred, though, seems to have had a history of completing difficult tasks he had set out to do. We are told he once rode 130 miles in thirteen hours to carry despatches, and he achieved his aim of reaching and returning from the Victoria Falls through uncharted and often hostile territory. He made some of his wealth by investing in new industries at their start, when more experienced financiers might have advised caution. So it may be that ‘promise’ is the meaning here, a brief way of saying to the doubters that he did what he said he would, and created an unusual memorial to a beloved daughter despite the great difficulties. Even if that is the meaning, it is still not clear whether ‘DICT:’ represents a verb or a noun, and how it fits with the rest of the inscription.

In 1915, and for the next twenty-two years, Ruth’s was the only grave in that part of the churchyard. Possibly Alfred's original intention was that eventually his two sisters, who had lived most of their adult lives at Newton Kyme, would be buried on either side of their niece. That would explain ‘MEDIAE’, which would be unnecessary if Ruth’s was always intended to be the sole grave there. As it happened, however, although Lucy Bethell died in 1917 at Newton Kyme, she was taken back to Rise to be buried in the churchyard there with other Bethells. Marcia Bethell lived on until April 1937 and she was buried in Newton Kyme churchyard, even though other members of the Bethell family continued to be buried at Rise. Her grave is next to Ruth’s. It is topped by a horizontal white stone slab with a cross in relief on it. Around the edge, an inscription in English uncial script records the affection of her nieces and nephews for Marcia Bethell of Rise, Yorkshire. Despite Marcia having spent almost fifty years in Newton Kyme, her surviving relations clearly thought her connections with Rise to be worth recording. A few months later, another person, unrelated, was buried on the other side of Ruth.

Maud Bethell’s Death

We know little of Maud Bethell’s life between Ruth’s funeral and her own. From the time of Ruth’s death, says the friend who spoke to the press after Maud Bethell’s own funeral, Mrs Bethell’s health was never the same, and it may be that that was the start of the long illness which eventually led to her death. When she died (from breast cancer and a brain tumour) on 22 November 1917, Maud was living at Scarborough Lodge, Harrogate, the home of (the late) Lt-Colonel William John De La Poer Beresford Peirse and his wife Mary (née Chambers). (Colonel Beresford Peirse, who was born in 1852, had died on 1st September 1917.) How long she had been living there is unknown. Colonel Beresford Peirse and his wife were presumably friends of the Bethells (or of the Bowers). It may be that they offered a home in her last illness where she would be more comfortable in a smaller and quieter household than with either of her daughters, both of whom had young children and, no doubt, busy social lives.

Maud was buried in the Bower family vault in Norton, and the principal mourners were her brother and other members of the Bower family, her daughters Esmee Stobart and Enid Lane-Fox, and Alfred’s sister Marcia Bethell. The death was registered by Enid Lane-Fox who had been present at the time. Alfred did not attend the funeral and is not mentioned in the report of it in the local newspaper.

Second Marriage

Alfred married again in December 1917, only weeks after his wife’s death, at St George’s, Hanover Square, London. His second wife was the Hon. Elinor Frances Lawson, a widow. She was of Irish nationality, born Elinor Frances Butler in 1869, a daughter of Viscount Mountgarret. In 1889 she married Andrew Sherlock Lawson of Aldborough Manor, Boroughbridge. Aldborough was just a few miles north of Middlethorpe, and Lawson, like Alfred Bethell, was a magistrate and a very well-known figure in Yorkshire society, being a Deputy Lieutenant for the West Riding. The families would have moved in the same circles and known each other well. Lawson died in 1914 so it was probably some time after that that the relationship between Alfred Bethell and the widowed Elinor Lawson developed into a closer one. Certainly marrying so soon after Maud Bethell’s death, undeterred by the possibility of shocked reactions, suggests that it was well known in their circle that they were waiting only for Alfred to be free.

Alfred Bethell came from an established Tory family, and certainly it was as a possible Conservative Unionist candidate that his name was put forward in 1895. His brother Capt. (George) Richard Bethell R.N. had represented Holderness as a Conservative M.P. from 1885 to 1900. So it must have been a surprise to many when in December 1918 Alfred stood as a Labour candidate in Bath. The second Mrs Bethell had also previously been a Conservative, having during her first marriage founded a Women’s Conservative Association for the Ripon District. Possibly they chose Bath as being a long way from Yorkshire where their previous Conservative sympathies were known to many. Elinor Bethell was a niece of the Hon. Mrs Whittuck of Claverton Manor, near Bath, so her connections there possibly influenced their choice. The couple moved temporarily to Bath for the campaign, renting a furnished house. Elinor Bethell played a full part in the campaign, speaking especially to women, this being the first election at which women (over the age of thirty and owning property) could vote. Their efforts were in vain, however, Bethell obtaining only 5,344 votes and losing by a majority of over 10,000 to the Conservative and Unionist candidate, a Capt. C.T. Foxcroft.

When, the following year, the engagement was announced of Mary Lawson, one of Elinor Bethell’s daughters by her first husband, her mother’s address was given as 78, South Audley Street, London. Alfred Bethell still owned Storrington Abbey, but in July that year he put it up for sale by auction. Where they lived after that is not known, though when he died his London address was Little Stanhope Street, Mayfair.

Alfred Bethell died on 23 October 1920 at South Beach, Felixstowe, of pneumonia following influenza. His wife was with him. He was buried in the churchyard of St James’s, Tong, a village on the outskirts of Bradford. (His widow was related to the owners of the Tong Hall Estate. ) Those present at the funeral service included his widow, his daughter Enid Lane Fox and her husband, his son-in-law Hugo Stobart (presumably Esmée Stobart was indisposed), his brother Col. Hugh Bethell, and his sister Marcia Bethell. The grave is inconspicuous, up against the wall at the back of the churchyard, quite a contrast to the elaborate tomb Bethell constructed for his daughter. The plain headstone states ‘Sacred to the memory of Alfred Bethell, born at Rise Oct. 2nd 1862, died Oct. 23rd 1920.’ At the foot is the line ‘And of the past are all that cannot pass away’. Even though his widow was related to the owners of the Tong Hall Estate, it still seems a curious choice of location for the grave of a man who, as far as is known, had never lived there and had no other connection to the place. Nor, it seems, did his wife: after his death Elinor Bethell spent most of her remaining life in Paris. (She died in 1943 and was buried at Roecliffe, near Boroughbridge.) One would have thought that either Newton Kyme where his sister lived and his daughter was buried, or the family vault at Rise, would have been a more appropriate location for his final remains.

The Times reported that Alfred Bethell left £50,905 with directions to his executors to ‘expend a sum not exceeding £100 in typing or printing six copies of the notes I have collected and compiled, called “Cleopatra to Christ”, as the said notes may hereafter be proved to be a solution of some historical problems, and one copy sent to the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the Oriental Library and the London Library, rough-hewn though such notes may be.’ This was done, and the work (in four folio volumes) appears in the British Library’s catalogue, where it is annotated as arguing that Cleopatra was Christ’s mother.

A.J. Bethell's tomb
A.J. Bethell's tomb


This enquiry began with the unusual memorial lettered ‘1895 RUTH 1915’ in Newton Kyme churchyard, and two puzzles remain: why such a memorial was chosen, and the relative anonymity and obscurity of the inscriptions on the arch and the tomb, especially the omission of the surname. Alfred Bethell’s family always lived not far away from his sisters at Newton Kyme Hall and it seems to have been always considered as a second home by them. As early as May 1895 Maud Bethell gave ‘a handsome altar desk’ to the church there. Later, at various times, Bethell and his daughters gave it as their address in preference to their actual home. The ruins in the grounds of the Hall would have appealed to the young children’s imaginations. In his grief at his daughter’s death, perhaps increased by a sense of guilt at the effect on his youngest child of the break-up of his marriage (still uncommon and a social handicap, even for innocent children, in those days), Alfred might well have wanted to give her a memorial from the happier days of her childhood, something which was also very different from the normal headstone that other graves had.

As for why he made it difficult for posterity to know whose tomb it was, there may be a simple explanation. Alfred Bethell was not interested in telling posterity who was buried in the tomb. He did what he wished and considered that his daughter’s tomb and memorial were no business of anyone else. When first erected, the tomb and arch were well away from the existing graves; over twenty years passed before another person was buried nearby, and that was Ruth’s aunt. The unusual choice of the arch and its visual prominence in the churchyard inevitably make it in one way a very public monument but, paradoxically, the anonymity and obscurity of the inscriptions, along with its position on the very edge of the burials, keep it a very private memorial.


At Newton Kyme, Barry Parkin and Bob Hall, former churchwardens, and Lucinda Jennings, the present warden, encouraged this research. The splendid efforts of Jane and Tim Fell in the churchyard revealed the previously-hidden brickwork surrounding the tomb.
I thank Alison Norman of Dringhouses Local History Group for information about Middlethorpe Lodge.
Special thanks are owed to Anthony J. Woodman, Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia, USA, who spent much time consulting colleagues there and in other universities to elucidate the meaning of the inscription.
Kate Alderson-Smith and David Tomkins kindly let me see a copy of Vanity Fair Album.
I am grateful to Oliver Pickering for his encouragement and helpful comments on an early draft of this article.