Father in the sugar trade in West Indies, married a Welshman, but spent last years in South of France hotel. Otherwise unknown
Victoria & Albert Museum
Jeffrey L Thomas
Remarkable spiral monument, listed
This is the most unusual and colourful memorial in the Smallcombe Garden Cemetery and possibly the most mysterious.
Tucked away in the woods near to the upper boundary wall, it is seldom noticed by passing visitors below. A slim stone column is decorated with brightly coloured fragments of ceramics and glass embedded in an astonishing spiral, winding all the way up the 6-foot column. It has a carved stone base and an urn on the top. Quite unlike any of the other memorials, it immediately invites questions: Why? What does it mean? What kind of life is being remembered and celebrated here?
The inscription has a dedication in Italian: “Alla Madre Mia” (To My Mother). It goes on to tell us that Mary Eleanor Jones was the daughter of Dr William Kerr of Nassau, West Indies, and the widow of William Jones of Rock, Montgomeryshire.
The remarkable monument was listed by English Heritage in October 2010 and the research to support the listing provides a framework for the mystery.
Her father William Kerr was a lawyer and Speaker of the House of Assembly in the Bahamas in 1811-1812. This was a period when there were disputes with London over the abolition of the slave trade and the importation into the colony of free Africans to work on the sugar plantations. (Slavery in the British Empire wasn’t abolished until 1833.) He lived and worked in Nassau, Bahamas, and St Croix now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He died in 1837 travelling between various islands. In his will he is described as a “planter and burgher” of St Croix.
Mary was born in London in 1813 and baptised in St Mary Abbotts church near Kensington Palace. A fashionable part of London even then. Mary had two elder brothers, both born in Nassau. Her mother had presumably been sent home to London to give birth to her youngest daughter.
In Cheltenham, at the age of 21, Mary married William Jones, a Captain in the 1st Royal Regiment of Foot, of Rock House, near Newtown, Montgomeryshire. William’s regiment had been sent to the West Indies, first Barbados then Trinidad, which may be where they met. The Jones family were owners of the Rock estate in a small village named Llanllwchaiarn. Mary and William lived in Rock House, close to a remarkable geological formation with spectacular views known just as ‘The Rock’, which is referred to in her Will. On top of it are the ruins of Montgomery castle.
They had a daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who later married a Mr T Linder of Basle, Switzerland, - in Jersey. After only 8 years of marriage to Mary, William died in 1842. She stayed on in “Rock Cottage” until 1870 and then spent the later part of her life in a hotel in the South of France. The Hotel Saint Charles is two streets from the sea in Juan-les-Pins, near Antibes.
We have no idea why, after all the travels, she came to live in Bath, only that she died in 1888, aged 72, in Sydney House, which is inside Sydney Gardens. Nor do we know nor why she was buried with the curious monument or what it means. There are two clues.
The sole executrix of her will was Mary Elizabeth Linder of 9 Via Condotti, Rome. So that accounts for the Italian inscription by her daughter.
The second clue is the monument itself. Such spirals are known as Solomonic and the most famous uses are in Bernin’s ‘baldacchio’ over the altar in St Peter’s Rome and in a 1633 cartoon by Raphael (St Peter healing a lame man in the Temple at Jerusalem). Maybe Mary’s daughter wanted one such column for her mother.
Some researchers suggest another source. The twisted spiral is similar to an old fashioned stick of ‘barley sugar’. They find the connection with the sugar trade in the West Indies almost inescapable.
Either way, someone must have known her well and probably loved her dearly to build such a remarkable monument.